DOES FREE CAR PARKING HELP RURAL TOWN CENTRES

Many movie aficionados like myself would agree that one the most underrated films ever made is the story of a Korean War veteran who ends up going to prison after a breakdown.

‘Cool Hand Luke’ starring the irrepressible Paul Newman in the title role, begins with the main character arrested for cutting the heads off parking meters, an act that gets him arrested and jailed.

I would very much doubt that those drunken yobs who smashed up the parking meters in the West Wales market town of Cardigan last month did so because of post traumatic stress syndrome from fighting in a brutal war. Indeed, it has been reported that they were merely looking for more beer money by breaking open the parking meters.

And whilst no one would condone such vandalism, the delay by Ceredigion County Council in repairing those meters seems to have led to unusual consequences that has resulted in greater economic activity across the town.

This is because more people have apparently been taking advantage of the lull in car parking charges to come to Cardigan town centre to shop, with local retailers benefiting from the increase in footfall, some by as many as 50 per cent in increased sales.

Not surprisingly, politicians have already looked at this unintended experiment as having the potential to develop a new policy to boost local shops. For example, Marcus Jones, the new high streets minister in the UK Government, has suggested that small town centres could become “parking meter-free zones” in an effort to save shops from closure.

Of course, there are those who clearly would object to any relaxation of parking laws with some anti-car lobbying groups suggesting that all the evidence shows that shopkeepers tend to seriously overestimate the proportion of customers that travel by car.

Unfortunately, most of the research they regularly quote against local free parking seems to be related to reports from major metropolitan areas such as London, New York and San Francisco rather than small rural towns where many people have no option but to take the car to go shopping for their weekly goods.

Perhaps this is where the problem lies, namely in the lack of detailed studies to measure the real benefits of making it as easy as possible for those living within our rural communities to access local services, especially within their nearest town.

Whilst cities such as Cardiff do need to get more people travelling by foot, bike or public transport, it is increasingly difficult to do the same within rural Wales especially as there is more chance of catching a cold than a local bus to your nearest shopping centre.

And whether campaigners like it or not, having a car is increasingly essential if you are living outside an urban area in Wales and the reality of this situation means that, unfortunately, it is unlikely to change in the near future.

Of course, the lack of free car parking is not the only issue affecting small retail shops. Online shopping has grown over the last few years with many small shops complaining that those who sell online do not have to pay the same high level of business rates.

Similarly, the large supermarkets often built on the edge of many towns do not charge for parking that, again, is a competitive disadvantage as compared to high streets where parking is restricted and charged for.

Whether policy should address these types of issues to address the increasing deficit in our high streets is clearly a debate that may be worth having.

In fact, there is probably no easy solution but as part of a town centre strategy, local authorities should not view parking provision as a short term method to raise money but more as a service for local people, and more importantly, as a way of supporting the high street in market towns across Wales.

For the retailers of Cardigan, it was inevitable that the grinding bureaucracy of local authorities would inevitably start working again and as of the beginning of last week, the parking meters have been repaired and are back in operation (and the price has even gone up).

Only time will tell whether the lull in car parking charges will have convinced more people to shop locally in this wonderful market town.

At least it has brought the issue of our declining high streets to the fore again and one can only hope that politicians will finally do something positive to address this in the near future.

BRISTOL BUSINESS SCHOOL AWARDED SILVER STATUS FOR SMALL BUSINESS CHARTER

Small Business Charter awards recognise outstanding work by universities in supporting small businesses, start-ups and their contribution to local economic growth. Bristol Business School at UWE Bristol is amongst a small group of business schools who have had their award upgraded.

The Small Business Charter awards were established by the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Lord Young and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in order to connect SMEs with world class business school knowledge, facilities and networks. There are now 27 Charter awarded business schools across the UK who continue to help start-ups and small businesses.

Receiving a Small Business Charter Award provides numerous benefits to business schools including the ability to play an active role in national business support initiatives such as the Growth Voucher programme.

Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Jane Harrington was delighted with the award, “Enterprise is at the heart of everything we do here at UWE, from developing entrepreneurial graduates via our innovative Team Entrepreneurship degree to supporting local businesses through various initiatives such as the 'Innovation 4 Growth' programme. We are therefore thrilled to receive the Small Business Charter silver award as it is testament to the hard work of our students and staff in embracing entrepreneurship at all levels within the university.

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who holds the chair in entrepreneurship and strategy at Bristol Business School said, “This is a wonderful achievement for UWE but we want to build on this success to ensure that we not only develop entrepreneurship within the university but across the West of England region. By developing the old Hewlett Packard plant into one of only four University Enterprise Zones in the UK, we will be supporting innovative local businesses but also ensuring that our talented students and graduates have the support to start and grow their own businesses."

Ian McNaught, Executive Director of the Small Business Charter, said, “The Small Business Charter management board is delighted with the latest awards and upgrades from across the country. Business schools are again showing their impact on SMEs through world class business expertise, programmes and advice. Each business school went through rigorous assessment to gain their awards and we are very pleased with the standards which have been demonstrated in this round of applications.

“The 27 Charter awarded business schools continue to positively influence regional economic growth through engaging small businesses and supporting start-ups. They are key players in their local economies and they are rightly being recognised for that commitment.”

University business schools awarded with Small Business Charter awards have already directly helped over 8000 small businesses – working with them through a range of support including on-site incubators with dedicated space for students and small businesses to start up and grow; dedicated Small Business Growth & Leadership programmes; and strong full time support networks of alumni and local business experts supporting both students and small businesses. These business schools have helped 4,700 students to find work placements in Britain's exciting micro-business and start-up sector.

How to handle the media – Part 2

If you examine news stories, you will find that news is: Dramatic Topical Specific with details, especially numbers; and Relevant to the media’s audiences You also need to remember that news is competitive. Editors and news directors report that for every story published and broadcast, at least another 10 are discarded. In some major national […]