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Charity shop overkill?

The march of the charity shop onto our high streets has surged since 2008.

Recent research by The Mail on Sunday found that are now more than 10,000 charity shops and, for the major charities at least, it is big business.

The newspaper found that The British Heart Foundation had 732 shops, with a turnover of £161m and profits of £31.3m. Likewise, Oxfam has 700 shops and Barnados 457.

While no-one begrudges the much-needed revenue that the charities receive from their retail outlets, the sheer rise in numbers – up 30% over the last five years to 3023 – is affecting the look of our high streets.

It is also having an effect on rents since there are cases in which struggling landlords are approaching charities offering them low rents to avoid having to pay full business rates.

Perhaps the main result of the growth is the ‘clustering’ of such shops which does not send out the right signals to other businesses looking to expand and may put off visitors altogether.

Also, while charity shops pay the normal costs for rents and utilities, they gain by significant reductions in business rates. Critics say that the lost revenue could be used to regenerate the high street and certainly many need real investment now to survive.

Maybe the answer is that there should be a cap on the proportion of charity shops in each high street so that other retailers can survive and thrive.

Time will tell but this is not a debate that is likely to be resolved any time soon, by Mary Portas or anyone else!

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Sabra Swinson

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