Rishi Sunak claims the rise in online shopping has posed a significant challenge for Swindon town centre.

Speaking to the Adver at the former Honda factory in Swindon, the Prime Minister weighed in on the state of the town centre, which has come under fire from the public and councillors over the last year.

2023 saw a number of local and national businesses leave the town centre, including the closure of M&S’s Regent Street store.

At the time council leader Cllr Jim Robbins admitted the loss was a “hammer blow” that indicated the town centre was in “decline.”

Many have argued high business rates are pushing businesses out of the area.

Mr Sunak, whose party has been in power since 2010, insisted difficulties for High Streets around the country were not “political”, but were instead down to online shopping.

Swindon Advertiser: Swindon town centreSwindon town centre (Image: Newsquest)

He said: “Everyone wants their High Street and town centres to be a place they can feel proud of, you want to be able to go there with your family and enjoy a nice time out together.

“You want it to be a vibrant place, the beating heart of your community.

“Is that more challenging in an era where more people are shopping online?

“Of course it is, that’s not anybody’s fault, that’s not a political thing, it’s because all of our shopping habits have changed.”

The Prime Minister said the government put measures in place to support businesses of all sizes, following lobbying from local MPs Sir Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson.

He added: “Making it easier for high streets to adapt and evolve as all of our habits change is really important.

“There’s a very strong set of support led by the two brilliant MPs for the local area.”

Swindon Advertiser: Rishi Sunak in SwindonRishi Sunak in Swindon (Image: Number 10)

These measures include what Mr Sunak referred to as a “considerable investment” through the Future High Streets Fund.

In October last year, Swindon was overlooked in a list of 55 “left behind” towns earmarked for £20 million of funding over the next ten years.

At the time, Conservative MPs argued the town had already received £19 million in levelling up money through the Towns Fund.

The Prime Minister also pointed to tax cuts as a way to reinvigorate the High Street.

He said: “This government has provided a 75 per cent discount on business rates for retail, hospitality and leisure.

“It is a huge tax cut we have continued this year so we can help those small shops, cafes and restaurants that make our High Streets special.”