LONG queues, busy department stores and big groups of chatting shoppers is what we have come to expect from high street shopping.

But the claim is that British high streets are dying, and now the government is trying to tackle it.

The 2018 budget, announced last week by Chancellor Philip Hammond in a 72-minute speech, had the high street high on its agenda.

In a budget which the chancellor claimed was bringing the era of austerity to an end, it was announced a third would be knocked off the business rates bill of 500,000 small retailers, for those with a rateable value below £51,000. Meanwhile a pot of £650m has been allocated to the Future High Streets Fund to rejuvenate high streets and their transport links.

Other points included the 20 per cent income tax band, which currently starts on earnings above £11,850, rising to £12,500 in April, and the 40 per cent band rising from £46,350 to £50,000.

The National Living Wage will be increasing by 4.9 per cent, from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, from April 2019.

Meanwhile beer, cider and spirits duties are to be frozen as well as fuel duty for the ninth year in a row.

There was also confirmation of an extra £20.5bn for the NHS over the next five years and a minimum extra £2bn a year for mental health services.

The promises to the high street got people talking, especially with Mr Hammond’s speech coming just days after it was announced that Debenhams would be the latest department store to suffer losses. It announced that it was closing up to 50 stores, putting 4,000 jobs at risk.

Hexham town centre has a string of dedicated independent traders, and with historical sites and beautiful parks, it’s not just the shops which should be attracting visitors to the town.

“I think this could be a brimming little town with specialist shops if we got it right,” explained Gail List of Petals, “but there needs to be incentives for people to come in, and we need to try to fill the empty buildings.

“I think it’s really good to offer some businesses lower rates but here, more needs to be done to stop these buildings just sitting there empty, because it looks bad on the rest of the town.”

Meanwhile, she believes Brexit is one of the main factors of uncertainty for businesses owners who might be thinking of moving or expanding, and she said landlords could do more by offering shorter leases to attract businesses.

And Jo Foster, who owns Dillies flower and gifts shop, said: “Big rates in Hexham are definitely a big concern, but it’s not just about a cash injection – people are going online more, and landlords need to make it easier for small businesses.

“It’s not just about rates either; it’s the cost to employ members of staff. If they keep putting minimum wage up small businesses have to find the money to fund it.”

Chief executive of the the British Retail Consortium Helen Dickinson said: “While we hugely welcome the temporary support being given to small businesses, these measures alone are not sufficient to enable a successful reinvention of our high streets.

“Retailers are currently in the midst of a perfect storm of factors – technology changing how people shop, rising public policy costs and softening demand. The underlying issue remains that the business rates burden is simply too high and this unsustainable system needs less tinkering and more wholesale reform within the context of the wider taxation system.”