Hugh Goulbourne Chair of the Huddersfield and Colne Valley Co-op Party 12th January 2022 Blog Share Tweet The Huddersfield Co-op Party was surveying our town centre in the first days of the new year, and as we were walking across St George’s Square in the shadow of the statue of Sir Harold Wilson, we were reminded of one of his quotations: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” Times have changed drastically in recent years, and, along with many others, Huddersfield town centre has been very badly affected by the pandemic. Retail and hospitality – two stalwarts of the high street – have been hit particularly hard. According to our survey, there are nearly as many empty units as restaurants in the town centre, and very little way of knowing who owns them. But change has been in the air for a long time now, and even before the pandemic, high streets were struggling. More and more of our spending is done online each year, and according to the Office of National Statistics, high street employment fell in more than three-quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018. The upheavals of the last two years have been massive, but as we start to find more stable footing, we can’t just return to business as usual which was so obviously failing. We need a new approach. Much of what needs to be done is in the gift of the Government: wholesale reform of business rates, an internet sales tax, land ownership transparency – and more public money in local hands. But the Government, being, as they are, conservative, want to hold on to the status quo, tiptoe around tax reform, and keep the money in Westminster. So what can be done locally if the Government continues to reject change? During the last 24 months, we have seen the power of mutual aid networks across Huddersfield. Groups of residents and local businesses we have come together to work tirelessly with little help from the Government to get their neighbours through hard times. As a local community volunteer and as the Chair of the Huddersfield and Colne Valley Co-op Party, my wish is that we tap into this local spirit of co-operation to make a difference to our town centre and to hold the Government to account. And I know this is a belief which is shared by so many others in our local co-operative, trade union and civic movements. Our council here in Kirklees is in many ways at the forefront of co-operation, with one of the most progressive policies on community assets in the county. In recent weeks, I have held encouraging discussions with cabinet members on this very topic, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see the council react favourably to a motion to Unlock our Town Centre and High Streets which our local Co-op Party are presenting in a few weeks’ time. As we rebuild from the pandemic, we must take the chance to have a more open and collaborative approach to the future of the town centre, with the council, West Yorkshire Mayor and our community all working together as architects and advocates for a better town centre at the heart of our thriving community.