January can be a month when people and businesses face some tough challenges and I know that there are some concerns about our town centres. Our shops are facing huge pressure from internet competition and empty retail units can dent the attractiveness of an area. Research also shows that small factors can lead to a lack of pride in our surroundings and so problems like littering and even drinking and drug issues can escalate. The Broken Windows Theory suggests that an ordered and well maintained area encourages good behaviour generally and I am a firm believer that our towns generally provide good experiences and offer a lot of potential for new sand existing businesses. These issues are important and we must all try to support the businesses we like with our custom.
As I have written before, I am campaigning for an overhaul and possible abolition of the Business Rate system. In the meantime though I am pleased with the recent announcements that discounts for small and certain types of business will be increased. Small shops and cafes will get a 50% discount from April and cinemas and music venues will be eligible for the first time. I hope the editors of this paper will be pleased with a five year extension of the discount for local newspaper offices. And we can all look forward to supporting our pubs, many of which will now get an additional £1,000 off the bill.
Two of the things we need to improve are the parking and also some of the traffic problems we experience. Much of this is driven by the policies of the District Council and the demand they create and I will be urging them to do as much as they can to take an active approach in helping our regeneration in this respect. I am lobbying in Westminster for us to be included in the coming round of the Future High Streets Fund to get some help in redeveloping the Cattle Market and Glovers Walk particularly as I think that some positive changes now will attract new businesses and bring the whole area up.
I have been contacted by some constituents concerned about rough-sleeping in Yeovil town centre too. Very few people are in that position by choice but there are a number of complex factors that we need to tackle. The Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative and Rapid Rehousing Pathway Funding have just been allocated a big uplift in funding for their third year and they are already starting to show results. I raised the issues of debt and rent arrears in the House of Commons earlier this week as we need to look at the factors that can lead people into these situations and intervene earlier. Better communication between agencies including the police, housing associations and social services will be key in helping and get the right help to people in need more quickly.