It means big units in Birmingham’s Bullring and in the centre of Manchester will find a new life. It also means that the days of the department store aren’t dead. M&S can see the benefit of having bricks and mortar and it has promised 3,400 new jobs.
But there remain doubts over some of our more traditional town and city centre M&S branches as the store remains committed to reducing and reorganising how it works. We are still waiting to hear how the company’s decision to reduce the number of its stores by 67 to 180 over the next few years will impact on the West Midlands, Shropshire and Staffordshire.
M&S is, of course, within its rights to look at how it operates and adapt for the future. But the presence of a Marks and Sparks has always been a bellwether for the health of a high street. If some of our traditional town and city centres lose their branch, it could hasten the overall decline of shopping areas that are already struggling.
In order to remain attractive to M&S and similar retailers, our local councils and retail organisations need to up their game. They need to have a compelling strategy for town centres so that they are more popular and can face down the twin challenges of out-of-town shopping centres and online shopping.
A mix of leisure, hospitality and residential property, which is so important to the night time economy, seems to be the current thinking and our local towns must not get left behind.
Conditions conducive to the retail environment are essential for thriving towns.
Figures today reveal the importance of cash machines. More than £1,500 was withdrawn last year by the average person in the West Midlands, a figure that is down on pre-pandemic levels but up on the previous year.
Though there’s been a slow drift towards a cashless society, physical currency remains essential. It is important not just for the economy but for individuals who want to make a choice on the way they wish to spend.
That is true not just in big cities and towns but also in our rural areas, where people need choice.
It has become easier to pay with cards or by phone, but that does not mean there is still not room for cash and coins. The older generation, particularly, needs hard cash.
It won’t be long before cards are also out of date, as people pay more frequently by phones. But currency is not a one-size-fits-all issue.