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27 November 2023

Exclusive: High streets “worse since 2010”, say most Tory councillors

The Conservative government claims the economy has “turned a corner” – but its own grassroots say otherwise.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Forgive the pun, but this government sets a lot of store by high streets. It’s spending £830m on the Future High Streets Fund, allocated in an attempt to regenerate 72 towns and high streets. Levelling up, ostensibly still a flagship policy, was supposed to “have visible effects on high streets” to support communities “in the more immediate term”, according to the white paper setting out the government’s plans.

But four years since voters put the Conservatives back into office, off the back of a manifesto promising to “unleash Britain’s potential” by empowering the regions, even these more superficial effects are not being felt. Most councillors say the state of high streets in their local authority area is bad (42.6 per cent) or very bad (12.9 per cent), according to an exclusive poll of councillors in England by the New Statesman’s Spotlight policy team*. A majority, at 70.1 per cent, say they have become worse since 2010.

[See also: What does it mean when a council declares itself bankrupt?]

Conservative councillors feel the same. The majority, at 51 per cent, say their area’s local high streets are bad or very bad, and 62.2 per cent say they have worsened since 2010 – the year their party came into government. In fact, a similar proportion of Tory and Labour councillors believe their local high streets have got "worse" (although Labour councillors are much more likely to report that their high streets are "much worse").

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If high streets are seen as a symptom of local economic health, then this is bad news for a government attempting to convince the country that the economy has “turned a corner”, in the words of Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor. It looks like ministers can’t even convince their own party.

*The full councillor survey results, made up of responses from 528 councillors across English local authority districts, are available here, and in a special policy supplement with the New Statesman issue of 24 November.

[See also: Ten ways to wreck a country]

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