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UK SMEs: High Street in ‘drastic decline’

The UK’s high streets are in freefall, according to the UK’s SMEs, with 85% of the view that the high street is in decline, a survey of 900 businesses conducted on behalf of Close Brothers Asset Finance reveals.  

High street in decline infographic

  • 85% feel the High Street is ‘in decline’  
  • 60% think the High Street will eventually disappear   
  • 70% say not enough support is being provided by councils or the government  

Unusually, this view is shared across all areas measured, including region, sector and business size (turnover and employee numbers) with little variation between them. 

“We’ve rarely seen this level of consensus in our research and it reflects the respondents’ personal experiences of the high street, whether as a consumer or a retailer,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance. “The issues facing the high street are many and multiple, with unreasonable business rates seen as the single biggest cause of the problems, followed by parking charges and – rather surprisingly in third and fourth place – online shopping and changing shopping habits.” 

Future of the High Street  

Three in every five of those surveyed feel it’s inevitable that the UK’s High Streets will eventually disappear altogether, leading to many businesses turning to digital marketplaces to promote their goods and services. Over a quarter admit to selling more online while a further 25% are actively seeking alternative sales channels to shore up their existing business model.

“The UK’s SMEs are known for their innovation and ability to problem solve but these results are understandably concerning,” said Neil. “Many of those surveyed are directly affected, whether as retailers or suppliers, and they’re clearly stating that unless something is done to address their concerns, like business rates and parking, the decline will continue.”


Not enough is being done by the government and local councils to encourage the health of the high street, according to 70% of those surveyed. Businesses in the South East and Wales feel particularly in need of some sort of assistance, along with those that employ between one and 10 staff. 

“Our research shows that the picture of decline is pretty uniform in all regions,” said Neil. “Despite a few success stories, the overall message is that confidence in the High Street is low.”  


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a GMI survey conducted in August 2018. The survey canvassed the opinion of nearly 1,000 SME owners across the UK and RoI and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.