Shapps: Parish power can save struggling village shops and pubs

Parish councils can also start new community shops or services; by giving small grants or, where appropriate, borrowing to make an investment, such as purchasing a freehold on a property.

Ministers believe many parishes are not using these powers when they could, so Mr Shapps is making a new call on councils to sit down with their local community and make sure every effort is made keep rural services alive.

The Government is shifting more powers from Whitehall to neighbourhoods, so councils have new freedoms and flexibilities to protect local services and drive growth.

From next year new powers in the Localism Bill will enable parish councils, after negotiation with district councils, to offer discretionary business rates discounts for local businesses, and they will be able to better protect local shops through policies in their neighbourhood plan.

Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said:

"The village shop, pub or post office is often the beating heart of a community. So when one is threatened with closure, often for a reason as simple as the shop owner or pub landlord retiring, I would expect the local parish council to pull out all the stops to keep it going.

"Some have done this brilliantly, but many have watched local amenities close when the power to save them was within their grasp. This is not about propping up failing businesses; it is often about providing temporary financial assistance or putting new community-run facilities in place, so vital services that people rely on are maintained.

"So if an important local business is struggling, I would urge the parish council to sit down with their community and explore every option to keep it running for the benefit of local people."

Mr Shapps said that he had seen many examples of where parish power had been successful, such as:

– keeping a local Post Office in Worcestershire open by purchasing its freehold and keeping its rent low

– borrowing to invest in a new community shop in West Sussex, which will offer a range of services and be a hub for the local community; and

– sing parish property in Devon to host a local Saturday market, and helping it expand by purchasing adjoining land.

Mr Shapps also called on parish councils to use National Pubs Week to start a conversation with the community about any local pubs that are under threat, and how they can be saved for the community.

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