Gazette & Herald Column: We're working to keep our high streets alive and well

The health of our high streets has been to the fore this week as I responded to an urgent debate in the House of Commons over the changes to the portfolio of Marks and Spencer’s shops (caused by the company recognizing the need to invest and change its portfolio to compete in a world where more and more shopping happens online).  I also joined those welcoming the reopening of the Maltings shopping centre following the nerve agent attack eleven weeks ago, and would like to add my thanks to all of those involved in the care of the Skripals and in the meticulous clear-up operation in the city, and send a big Good Luck to all the traders and entrepreneurs who have lost business over the past few weeks – our high streets are the backbone of local cities and towns, and the Government continues to support them with financial help, including the £2.3bn benefit to local businesses from changes to rate indexing, a consultation on how to level the VAT playing field between online and bricks and mortar businesses, and almost £20 million given to towns funding initiatives such as the Great British High Street, and the establishment of the Future High Streets Forum and the Retail Sector Council.  Of course there is more to do, but ultimately our high streets need OUR support to survive, and with so many great shops and enterprises to choose from across Wiltshire it is a pleasure to do so! 

As well as supporting local business, the Government has quietly been getting on with a whole package of measures to enhance animal welfare that should make all of us in our animal-loving country feel quite proud.  They include a tenfold increase in the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty, making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, consulting on banning third-party puppy sales and the live export of animals for slaughter once we leave the EU, and implementing new restrictions on pesticides which harm bees.  Also this week, we saw another landmark proposal to introduce one of the toughest bans on ivory sales in the world, covering ivory of all ages with some minor exemptions for important antiques.  With more than 20,000 elephants a year still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory this leadership is long overdue – and will be especially welcomed by the local initiative Kids’ Tusk Force, created by the tireless June Pearson of East Grafton and supported by many local school children, which campaigns to raise awareness of the horrors of elephant poaching, and fundraises to support orphaned baby elephants in Kenya.