Recently there has been a lot of news coverage of the collapse of big-name brands in the high streets, but our market towns have been fighting for their lives for a lot longer.
In Carmarthenshire, the county council has been doing its bit to drive more nails in the coffins of our small towns and independent retailers with its car parking charges.
Not many years ago, car parks in most of the county's smaller towns were free, but seeing an opportunity to make money, charges were introduced, and these have been rising at well above inflation ever since. If anything, the council intends to escalate matters, and has published what it calls proposals to rack up charges year-on-year for the next three years, with the price of a ticket for an hour rising from 40p in 2011 to 70p in 2014.
Car parking at supermarkets is, of course, free. So what we have is an active disincentive for people to shop locally. Want to nip into town to buy a loaf of bread and some milk? Add 50p to your bill if you park in a council car park.
In Newcastle Emlyn, which has one fairly large car park and two smaller ones, it turns out that the county council last year made a profit of around £55,000 from parking, although in true Carmarthenshire style, the numbers have been subject to spin, with £27,000 of profit being eaten up by fictional improvement and maintenance work. The probable truth is that most of the £27,000 was in fact spent on a new bus shelter which has nothing whatever to do with the car parks.
The reason we know this is because the Town Council was forced into making a Freedom of Information request to the County Council to obtain information which, you would think, County Hall would provide its community councils with anyway.
In common with the public, local councillors have noticed that while charges have gone up and up, repair and maintenance of the car parks have gone in the opposite direction, although the county council has now patched up some of the largest potholes and repainted the parking bays, which had become also invisible to the naked eye.
Meanwhile, it seems that all is not well in Carmarthen's flagship Tesco Extra store, which is under-trading significantly. Not that things are much better at Morrison's where the county council's policy of encouraging out-of-town retail development has resulted in the mushrooming of a large and growing retail park off the A40. According to a consumer survey, elderly shoppers are deterred from going to Morrisons because of the large roundabouts and multi-lane approaches to them.
With thanks to the Tivyside Advertiser for a timely nudge.