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High streets could get much needed boost

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By Fiona Reid
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High streets could get much needed boost

CASH to help the region's high streets is being lined up by Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Members of the economy and resources committee will next week be asked to agree to allocations of £120,000 from the recovered Business Loan Fund to the High Street Challenge Fund scheme for 2021/22 and £75,000 from the unspent balance of the business support discretionary fund to support the Enterprise Seed Fund.

In a report for the meeting, officials said: “High streets across the UK have been devastated as shoppers have moved online. Although this was an existing trend, it has been accelerated by the lockdowns caused by covid. Retail is the second biggest employment sector in our region, and it is likely that our high streets will continue to decline without proactive intervention.

“One of the effects of this decline is empty retail outlets at the core of our high streets. Empty units in the middle of a row of shops changes the whole feel of the town.”

It is hoped the High Street Challenge Fund will help to refresh the core of the area’s towns by enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to start new businesses in the empty retail units, revitalising our town centres.

It will offer support with overhead costs over first year, fit outs of a unit, economic development business advisers and support from an external retail consultant, help to create a business plan from an external business consultant, as well as websites and social media.

In an innovative approach, entrepreneurs will be able to compete to win a spot on the High Street in a “Dragons Den” style competition. All credible applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch their idea to the judging panel who will be drawn from local members, community group leads, local business owners and economic development staff. The competition could include anything that has wide appeal to local residents and visitors.

A council spokesman said: “The High Street Challenge Fund is just one of the ways our council is looking at to help revitalise town centres and give businesses and our economy a boost.

“The proposed Enterprise Seed Fund scheme would deliver financial support by way of a discretionary grant to assist business start-up and early-stage development throughout our region. Support will be focused on achieving start-up and development funding for commercially viable businesses with an emphasis on creating jobs, increasing turnover, innovation, on-line trading, and exporting. This is a flat £1500 matched funding scheme which requires a minimum investment of £1500 from the applicant. The fund would allow 50 businesses to be supported. The grant can be paid to a new start business at the time of expenditure, to help kick start their journey.”

Committee chairman Cllr Rob Davidson said: “I believe the High Street Challenge Fund is a great and very original idea. The support package is anticipated to cost up to £12,000 for each outlet and the target is that ten outlets will be filled, giving a total cost of the project of £120,000. This will not only re-vitalise our high streets, but create jobs, and have the knock-on effect of attracting shoppers to other premises in our towns. In addition to other schemes proposed, this should go a long way to revitalising our towns and encouraging people to ‘shop local’.”

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