WI pitches in to end high street crisis

The Women’s Institute is throwing its influence behind a campaign to save Britain’s high streets and is hoping to end the perpetual decline of town centres.

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Almost 87 per cent of the 4,000 members of the WI at the group’s annual national conference voted to make the issue the focus of its lobbying efforts.

The group’s 212,000 strong membership will turn its attention to boosting local town centres, small retailers and communities. There will be a lobbying campaign on a local and national level and it hopes to use its strength to influence Government policy.

The group will be hoping to have more of an impact on town centres than retail guru Mary Portas, who was appointed by the Government to review the UK’s high streets and come up with a regeneration plan. The plan included a number of Portas Pilot towns, which have been criticised for not leading to any improvements.

Almost one in eight shops is currently empty according to the British Retail Consortium, and the national town centre vacancy rate reached 11.9 per cent in April 2013 – the highest rate since the survey began in July 2011.

Marylyn Haines Evans, chair of the public affairs committee and proposer of the resolution, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “We are not calling on our members to boycott online shopping or to stop using out-of-town shopping centres and major supermarkets. What we are asking is that they go first to their local shops.”

Each year the WI selects one issue to campaign on and lend support to. Previous campaigns the WI has supported include increasing the number of midwives in the UK, and food labelling, which helped achieve a commitment from the European Parliament to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling on all fresh meat.

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