Byron Davies is a Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for South Wales West, and the Shadow Minister for Transport, Regeneration and European Affairs. Follow Byron on Twitter.
The state of the Welsh high street is a useful barometer in assessing the health of the Welsh economy. Unfortunately, this test rings true as the woes of the high street reflect the structural challenges facing our economy.
In Wales the shop vacancy rate is 4% higher than the UK average, while footfall in our town centres has fallen by a fifth in the past five years. The most recent figures for business births show Wales has the second lowest rate of all the UK nations and regions. Vacant and dilapidated shop fronts are becoming an increasingly common sight blighting our high streets, which can deter shoppers and even attract low-level crime.
Our high streets have been in gradual decline for over a decade, arguably due to the rise of internet shopping and the development of out-of-town shopping centres. Yet, even in these days of eBay, Amazon and supermarkets the size of department stores, there is a promising and viable future for the high street. The truth is that our high streets have been neglected for too long by lazy Labour. Welsh Conservatives want to see a return to bustling high streets full of thriving small local businesses, but to achieve this we need effective management, strategy and direction from the Welsh Government.