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Brighton’s independent shops are a hindrance to growth says think tank
4:35pm Wednesday 27th June 2012 in Business News
A think tank has called for more supermarkets to encourage investment in Brighton and Hove. But business leaders in the city said supermarkets do not foster innovation and growth.
Centre for Cities, a London-based research and policy institute, said the country’s strongest performing cities are those with the most branches of supermarkets.
Paul Swinney, an economist at Centre for Cities, said: “Brighton, well known for the independent nature of its economy and shown to be a ‘buoyant’ city has the fifth lowest share of branch businesses out of all UK cities. But far from being a strength, the relatively closed nature of its economy should be somewhat of a worry. If cities are the fonts of ideas, the lack of exposure of the Brighton economy to influences from elsewhere could hinder its future growth prospects.”
The city already has 1,300 branch businesses with headquarters outside the city, including supermarkets and large retail chains.
Tony Mernagh, executive director at the Brighton and Hove Economic partnership, rejected the idea that branch businesses make a city more open to influence and investment.
He said: “I have the greatest respect for Centre for Cities but I think they have got it wrong in this instance. There is enormous creativity demonstrated by independent businesses in the city – you only have to look at the eclectic North Laine or our burgeoning digital sector to see that. I am not sure that “branch” businesses run by people who have little vested interest in the city itself add a great deal especially if they are the type that change their managers every five minutes.”
Julia Chanteray, president at the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, said: “I don’t think Brighton and Hove’s economy is closed, nor do I think that our independent shops are a weakness. Mr Swinney doesn’t really understand the city.
“Our independent shops are an important part of our tourism and retail offer. People come here because of the independent shops and cafes, and shop at the mainstream high street shops as well, so the independents are good for everyone.
“I’d like to see more of the businesses which have grown up in Brighton spreading to the rest of the country – maybe we could go and liven up some of the cities which have a high proportion of big chains.”
Gavin Stewart, chair of the Brighton Business Improvement District said Mr Swinney was arguing for homogenisation across every city in the UK.
He said: “What Brighton does brilliantly is maintain the USP of being an eclectic independent shopping destination. Talk to any retailer in the city and it’s one of the things that they are rightly proud to be a part of. There is no wall between Brighton and the rest of the UK blocking any influences or any kind to the city, either inwards or outwards. On top of that, we have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country which is testament to our success in attracting businesses to the city.
Andrew Nichols, chairman of the Hove Business Association said: “Brighton and Hove has a unique economy which has helped protect it from the economic ravages of the past three years. It’s certainly not about the demonisation of the chain store, it’s about maintaining and developing the Brighton brand, which has to a large extent been built on independence.”
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