We must not let virtual life kill off the high street, says TIM NEWARK

We must not let virtual life kill off the high street, says TIM NEWARK
Wed, 13 Feb 2019 07:48:00 +0000

The high street

The high streets are disappearing and the government doesn't seem to care (Image: Grant Faint/Getty )

Sometimes I think she is one of the few people who keep my home city going.

She used to like browsing for DVDs but now HMV has shut down

She used to like buying her make-up in a House of Fraser store but now that looks in doubt.

Like many people of her generation, she trusts cash to pay for everything.

It's a good discipline too – you can't spend more than you have.

But now many people of all ages are increasingly being denied access to cash.

Shockingly, consumer watchdog Which? revealed that in the past six months of 2018 almost 500 ATMs were scrapped every month.

That included 102 machines in remote areas where people really depend on them, plus of course more than 3,000 banks closing their doors since 2015.

It is a silent crisis that is being ignored by the Government in its relentless push to make us all go digital.

But we're not all computer savvy and the revolution should slow down, otherwise a great many people are being left behind.

In an age when we are all supposed to be more connected, a lot of older people are feeling even more isolated than ever.

High street

Fewer people are using the high street as more shop online (Image: Getty)

Good for Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for launching their campaign this week defending access to cash, "Freedom to Pay - Our Way".

"Millions of small firms have customers who want to pay using notes and coins," says the FSB chairman. "The vast majority of shoppers either use cash frequently or want to see access to it maintained."

Equally, many consumers like to get out of their homes and go shopping in real high streets not virtual ones online.

This morning I went for a stroll and learned more about what is going on in my local community from chatting to a shopkeeper and a cafe owner than I would online.

High street businesses

High street businesses have to pay high rates while online shops do not (Image: Press Association)

People like mixing with other people.

I don't want to conduct my whole life sitting at a screen.

Essex MP Robert Halfon says that his elderly constituents are now phoning him to get the news because the last local newspaper in Harlow has shut down.

"People are completely isolated," he said. "Especially if they're elderly, they've no idea what's going on, what's happening to the hospital, what the council are deciding, what the schools are doing."

A quarter of all regional journals have closed over the past ten years.

Local newspapers, like local shops and banks, are the life blood of a community and yet all are being swept away by an internet tsunami.

And the sick joke is that the new forms of digital communication are now being exposed as bad for us.

Not only is the web harvesting information from us, it is using it to spread fake news, scams that steal money, and harmful images that actually encourage our children to kill themselves.

My mother is delighted not to be part of this maelstrom of digital manipulation and yet she will be punished for avoiding it in the future by being left out of "day to day" business because she doesn't have access to a computer or smartphone.

What is even worse is that the hi-tech fat cats who've made billions out of making us addicted to their gadgets are making sure their children don't grow up in web-dominated environments.

According to one report, Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill, bans her children from having smartphones, while the most respected school in Silicon Valley does not allow electronic devices for under-11s.

At the same time as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says that he will improve the responsibility of his social media platform, he wants his kids to play outside and read Dr Seuss at bedtime.

 Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Mark Zuckerberg, with wife Priscilla, wants his kids to play outside and read Dr Seuss at bedtime (Image: Taylor Hill/Getty)

What gross hypocrisy from the super-rich geeks who are happy to sweep away the services and institutions that bind our society while they try to replicate older, simpler times within their own protected communities.

They really are like the aristocrats of past eras playing at being peasants.

It is up to government to make sure that none of us are left behind to suffer for not being suckers to this digital feeding frenzy.

The internet titans need to start paying their fair share of tax and that money needs to be re-directed towards saving our high streets by drastically cutting business rates and rents.

No high street trader should be penalised for functioning in the real world while online businesses thrive at our expense.

Give tax breaks to local newspapers too.

We need their voice to balance the increasing nonsense being foisted on us by fake news websites.

Otherwise we face a digital dark ages in which we know less, not more.

Above all, keep real money circulating as this keeps power in our hands and maintains our independence from being just online customer data.

I want to see my mother carry on proudly strolling around Bath chatting to shopkeepers and enjoying the occasional glass of wine while she settles a bill with notes and coins.

Her internet profile is thankfully non-existent and that's the way she wants to keep it.

Let's block ads! (Why?)

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