I FULLY accept the criticism of the standard of service to be found in some High Street businesses (Mailbag, July 12) but that is only one aspect of the shopping experience to be found.
The failings identified – lack of knowledge, lack of interest and the pressure to buy ‘gold-plated’ add-ons, extended guarantees etc – are really aspects of the major national companies who are deserting the High Street for retail parks outside the ring road.
The real future for a healthy High Street is not the nationals nor the depressing pound shops and charity shops but smaller, independently run, specialist shops with staff highly trained and committed to the long term health and reputation of their business rather than simply maximising their commission.
These businesses, however, are being hit from two sides – astronomical rent and rates which make profitability difficult and, of course, the internet.
Until local councils start treating town centre businesses as being essential to the life of the town rather than mere cash cows, small businesses will continue to struggle and fail. Where are the initiatives to encourage small businesses to start up and prosper? Why are there so many empty shops which new businesses can’t afford to rent?
The internet is a more insidious threat to the small business. The internet thrives on people using specialist showrooms to see the products on display and to gain the benefit of the expertise available from trained staff before going on line to purchase from a faceless website offering a discount on High Street prices but offering none of the advice, service or support of the local shop.
I have to declare an interest here. For 21 years I have owned and run a small wood-burning stove showroom in Oldham. We pay several thousand pounds each year in business rates, just for the privilege of being on the High Street and don’t even get the bins emptied for that!
But what really hurts is the time we spend advising and guiding prospective customers to ensure that what they buy is suitable, legal and, most of all, safe only for them to go home and onto the web using their new-found knowledge.
While that is bad for our businesses, a more worrying aspect of the internet we have found in regard to our business is the ability of the general public to browse online and choose a stove without any advice, purely on the basis of price and a picture, often resulting in inappropriate, illegal, sub-standard or downright dangerous purchases.
A common comment is that small businesses should reduce their prices to compete with the internet. If only it was that simple! A presence on the High Street, trained staff and proper backup, are expensive and businesses need appropriate margins to survive.
Until local councils start helping by offering affordable premises, decent access and convenient, affordable parking, the High Streets will continue to decline to the detriment of us all.
Return to commonsense
A £23m loan to Kirklees College? However it is justified, the point is that this decision was made by the ruling Labour Group on Kirklees MBC, in private, without the knowledge and consent of council taxpayers.
Add to this the £250,000 plus per annum for trade union representatives (not a legal requirement) and the enormous cost of the Civic Centre wind turbine debacle, then, at a time when funding for the elderly and disabled is being cut, Council Tax discount for pensioners discontinues and charges for the privilege of parking in your own street is introduced, council taxpayers may well ask what on earth is going on.
One is bound to concede that some of their decisions are at best astonishing and at worst reckless and irresponsible.
However, help may be forthcoming in the form of the Localism Bill which is going through Parliament at the moment and should be law by autumn.
It is potentially one of the most exciting pieces of legislation in decades and offers the opportunity of real ‘people power’ in shaping local government in this area.
One of its provisions is the use of referendum on matters of major importance and the three items mentioned above must surely have come within its criteria. Council taxpayers, start making your lists now! After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
The menace of ‘listing’
IN the Examiner on July 7 there was an article headed ‘A town scarred by derelict buildings’.
This stated that ‘among the saddest buildings is the very modern 1954 Lloyd Wright and Dudok-like amenities block of Thomas Broadbent and Sons Ltd on Queen Street South’.
These statements about the Broadbent amenity block are totally misleading. I started work at Broadbents in 1942 and became chairman in 1971.
I was well aware of the details of this amenity block when it was built and I was personally friendly with Geoffrey Rowe, of Abbey Hanson and Rowe, the architects responsible for the design.
At no stage was the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright ever mentioned during the design, nor was the Dutch architect Dudok.
It was built as a low-cost amenities block for foundry workers and, when the foundry closed down 30 years ago, hasn’t been used since.
The building has no remarkable features of any kind and all that can be seen from Queen Street South is a row of broken windows which are continually being assaulted by local yobs.
The roof is falling in, the foundations are sagging, the wiring and plumbing have not been used for 30 years and are now totally dysfunctional and quite dangerous.
The building is completely beyond repair and health and safety regulations mean that no member of the public must ever be allowed anywhere near it. This is a nondescript building which should never have been ‘listed’.
Indeed, listing is usually detrimental to the future existence of an otherwise thriving private sector employer.
I am telling you this to put the record straight. I haven’t worked at Broadbents for the last 20 years and no longer have any say in its activities, but I would appreciate anybody’s efforts to prevent any other irreparable building on a functioning industrial site ever being listed again.
I AM amazed at what is being charged for sandwiches and coffee in town. We love to have a break from our shopping but were shocked by what we found at one cafe.
We were charged £11 for two sandwiches – beef and prawn – and two coffees. The prawn sandwich had hardly any prawns. This cafe has seen the last of us and I’m sure other people feel the same.
S J Paul
Beware danger road
WE overlook St John’s church yard in Upperthong where I regularly watched a brown and white cat sit patiently on one of the headstones waiting for an unsuspecting mouse to come along.
It would occasionally look up to my lounge window and stick a paw up to my two border collies who would be watching it too.
This same cat would also walk up to our patio doors and have a good look in.
Once again it seemed like an act done just to torment the dogs. A real character.
Sadly I left home one morning last week to find its body by the side of the road, a victim of a passing motorist who presumably didn’t bother to stop.
A speeding motorist? I don’t know, I didn’t witness the accident, but the speed that many motorists travel along Binns Lane while using it as a rat run to avoid the centre of Holmfirth is alarming – the worst culprits, but not exclusively, being young male drivers.
Along much of Binns Lane there are no pavements meaning that many driveways open straight on to the road, a manoeuvre which has to be undertaken with great care and there is a blind bend half way along.
The lane is also used by the local playgroup when taking the kids to play in Victoria park.
It is potentially a dangerous length of road if not approached with care and caution.
I’m not suggesting that restrictions be placed on Binns Lane, I just ask the inconsiderate hotheads to slow down and respect the people who live here.
The cat wasn’t wearing a collar so I took it to Donaldson’s vet’s in the hope that it was identity chipped.
I hope it was and the owners have been informed of their loss.