Charity shops must demonstrate they are making an "invaluable contribution" to their communities as well as raising funds for good causes, according to the head of the Charity Retail Association.
Speaking at the association’s AGM in north London yesterday, Warren Alexander, chief executive of the CRA, said the membership body had spent the past two years defending charity shops from accusations that they benefit from unfair rate relief and are responsible for declining high streets.
He said that over the past year the CRA’s focus had been on Wales, where the Welsh government had been consulting on whether to reduce business rate relief for charity shops.
Alexander said the CRA had spent £50,000 on its campaign against the Welsh government’s proposals. He said he thought the campaign would be won after a concerted effort from the CRA and its members.
"Charity shops have failed to communicate the tremendous good they do," Alexander said. "We have to address the concerns of politicians and demonstrate the role played by charity shops on the high street so they know they are part of the solution, not part of the problem."
He urged the association’s members, which represent 370 charities responsible for 7,500 shops, to build relationships with other retailers, get involved in high-street regeneration projects and contribute to events such as Christmas light displays.
Alexander said some people thought charity shops got favourable treatment and were jealous of the 80 per cent rate relief they received, which was seized on by some politicians as an example of an "uneven playing field".
"It shows the need to demonstrate that charity shops are making an invaluable contribution as well as raising huge and critical funds," he said, pointing out their positive impact on the environment, volunteering and local communities.
Wendy Mitchell, head of policy and public affairs at the CRA, told the meeting that the association was concerned about rate relief in Wales because it might make cutting rate relief for charity shops acceptable elsewhere in the UK.
The association’s campaign had been successful in terms of generating coverage and bringing together cross-party opposition to the proposals, she said, but added: "There is still uncertainty with regard to the future of charity shops in Wales."
In her response to the consultation, Edwina Hart, the Welsh government’s business minister, wrote to the UK government and other devolved administrations last month to seek their views on cutting business rate relief for charity shops and said she would monitor the issue of new goods being sold in charity shops.
Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Labour MP for Durham and shadow minister for communities and local government, also spoke at the AGM in a panel discussion about the value of charity shops on the high street.
Asked about her party’s position on rate relief, she said: "That is an area that needs to be looked at. But we’ve always been supportive of rate relief for charities."
Blackman-Woods said a more coordinated approach to high streets was needed.
"What appears on high streets and how they get shaped should be issues for local communities," she said.
There seemed to be public support for charities diversifying what they do on the high street and providing a wider range of services, she added.