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Five-year plan for high street rejuvenation

Words: Laura Edgar

A five-year strategy to reinvigorate the high streets in the UK, including four initiatives, has been announced by the Digital High Street Advisory Board.

John Walden, chairman of the Digital High Street Advisory Board, explained that the digital revolution is arguably the most disruptive factor affecting our communities.

The report, the Digital High Street 2020, addresses how stakeholders in town centre communities, including small businesses, charities and public service providers, can benefit from the integration of digital technologies.

This, it continues, would enable high streets to compete more favourably to serve customers.

There is, Digital High Street 2020 explains, a “digital divide” between the national and international companies, who are investing in their digital capabilities and small, independent high street businesses. The success of the businesses across the divide is critical to the success of communities.

The report explains that the internet provides a range of goods, price comparisons and home delivery that can appear more attractive, while out-of-town shopping centres provide easier parking and less congestion. As a result, new solutions, including traffic management, are needed to regenerate high streets.

The digital economy is critical to driving the high street’s economic and social vibrancy, which “stand to generate billions of pounds of additional revenue fro digital interactions with public,” says the advisory board.

Therefore, the report suggests creating a framework to accelerate their capabilities through private, public and third-sector collaborations and leaderships from local authorities.

It recommends:

• Infrastructure and connectivity standards in town centres should be raised by 2020 by developing digital access beyond existing government targets;

• Establishing a basic digital skills programme to eliminate the gap in digital skills by 2020 to make sure that individuals, small and medium-sized businesses and the community can benefit;

• Creating a High Street Digital Lab to provide UK towns with ready-to-use digital capabilities dedicated training in each town, including apprenticeships; and

• The first UK High Street Digital Health Index to allow towns, as well as national and local authorities, to assess the competiveness of high street communities and inspire community groups, town teams and private enterprises to make a change.

Walden said: “Many members of UK town centres are struggling to keep up with consumers in terms of their digital capabilities, and given the pace of digital growth many towns lack sufficient infrastructure and basic digital skills.

“I believe that the business-oriented board has provided recommendations that, taken together, can restore our high streets to vibrancy in a digital future, into 2020 and beyond.”

Ben Dowd, business director at O2, added: “The Digital High Street Health Index will be a unique and critically essential part of enabling towns and villages to understand how they can put technology at the heart of their community, so that local customers and citizens can truly benefit.

“Crucially, they must work with retailers to ensure that they understand how technology can complement – not replace – their physical presence, as those that fail to take an integrated approach risk being left behind.”