The Government's plans for empty shops have sent David Ress to check the calendar

You cannot be serious

April Fools' Day is generally a fun day for journalists - in amongst the vast number of newspapers and web pages produced on that day there will always be a smattering of stories that are exactly that, made up items for the annual laugh-in of April 1.

But I must admit that the recent government press release headlined "Empty shops revival plan to prevent high street decline" had me reaching for the calendar, just to check I hadn't got the date wrong. Nope, it's April 14 as I write this, so it must be serious.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham are suggesting that a solution to the empty shops crisis in our high streets is to convert them into local art galleries or music summer schools. It's worked in Chorley, apparently, so it's time to roll it out to the rest of the country.

Now I like music and the arts as much as the next man, but the reason we have a huge and growing problem of empty shops in our high streets is nothing to do with untapped consumer demand for sketches and string quartets. It's partly to do with recession of course, but it's also the result of years of complacency by the government and local authorities about the dynamics of our high streets. Three years ago the All Party Small Shops Group warned that supermarket power, planning policy and town centre parking charges were a ticking time bomb for high street retailers. Now the destruction is happening as predicted, the government's reaction is about as useful as Marie Antoinette's 'Let them eat cake'.

Of course we need a solution - empty shops don't do anybody any good. But rent and rate freezes, better policing and free local parking will do far more to make the high street vibrant again than any number of craft fairs, so now is the time for the authorities to show some real creativity.


Steady as she goes

Most indicators suggest that trade is not too bad in the independent sector at the moment. Yes, there are some price rises to factor into sales growth, but on the whole things are at least steady for the sector.

But independents have had to be nimble and alert in both their buying and their selling to stay on top of things, not to mention putting in the extra hours where necessary to seize every opportunity to keep family businesses moving forward while more corporate enterprises miss out.

So keep up the good work, it's paying off.