Falling number of stores open across the city

Empty shops at Stevenson house Bletchley
Empty shops at Stevenson house Bletchley

The number of new stores opening in Milton Keynes HALVED in 2014 compared to 12 months earlier.

New figures released by financial consultants PwC show that 21 new shops opened last year, compared to 40 in 2013.

However the number of shops closing also fell, from 36 in 2013 to 21 last year.

Rob Hunt, restructuring partner at PwC in Milton Keynes, said: “This year’s numbers expose the harsh impact of ‘macro’ changes on the high street, especially in certain sub-sectors. Increasing regulation for money shops, the advance of technology for some phone operators and the continued shift to the internet in the clothing sector.

“Despite the benign economy, the net loss of shops has accelerated. The insolvencies of Phones4U, Albemarle & Bond, and La Senza, a diverse cross-section of the retail market, epitomise these factors.

“Despite the continuing problem of closures, new sub-sectors, such as discount shops and charity shops keep growing. The strength of the restaurant and fast-food sectors is also a boost for the high street.”

Andy Lyon, partner and retail expert at PwC in Milton Keynes, added: “We’re again seeing the continued effects of the digital revolution and consequent change in customer behaviour play out on the high street – these trends have been with us for some time and we should expect the rate of closures to continue. As customers are embracing new digital and mobile technologies, traditional retail channels to market are being forced to integrate with online channels to respond to this change in behaviour. The impact of this is that many retailers are choosing to invest in their online offering, rather than their store portfolio.

“The future can be seen by watching the ‘digital natives’ at work and play - those who have grown up with online shopping, mobile phones and wide-spread broadband have a very different relationship with traditional high streets than the previous generations. Rather than try to recreate the past, the high street needs to evolve to be relevant to the future.”

Paul Griffiths, chief 
executive of Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is positive to see Milton Keynes bucking the national trend in terms of store closures and it’s clear the advent of online sales have created new opportunities for retailers.

“Businesses in Milton Keynes have an upbeat attitude to the local economy and are confident about their prospects in 2015.

“This is shown in our results for the Quarterly Economic Survey(QES) which reveal more than 90 per cent of Milton Keynes firms in the service sector expect turnover to improve and 83% expect profitability to also improve or stay the same over the next 12 months.

“We look forward to seeing the findings of our forthcoming QES which is due to be released around April 9.”

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Council said: “For the past two years running, the council has run Small Business Fortnight, encouraging people to shop locally. This is publicised widely through adverts, press releases, etc.

“The main thrust is to encourage people to shop locally, but as part of SBF we also run two weeks of workshops helping ‘start up’ and small businesses with advice on important aspects of their business, e.g. accountancy, using social media to boost business, and legal advice.”