OXFORD has become a ‘scruffy, poorly-managed clone town, trading on its past glories’ and the city must provide more help to small businesses, an industry expert has said.

Ian Middleton ran two jewellery shops in the city but shut them down – the last one closing in 2015 – to operate from Kidlington.

The retail journalist attacked a lack of ‘political will’ and said that efforts from the city council amounted to ‘cut-and-paste answers’.

He said it seemed to have ‘no concept of how an historic city should be nurtured, shaped and supported’.

Mr Middleton said information from the city council obtained through a Freedom of Information request showed that £31m of business rate relief was Government-led, rather than anything set up by the authority.

He had asked for the information following the closure of the Combibos Coffee bar in Gloucester Green in June.

The Hanss family who ran the shop blamed the impact of the reopened Westgate Centre. They said Oxford had ‘lost the sparkle’ it had when the business was launched 12 years ago.

Mr Middleton, who has stood for the Green Party, agreed.

In a letter to the city council and seen by The Oxford Times, he said the cabinet member responsible for the city centre, Mary Clarkson, had ‘implied’ that it was giving help to businesses after the coffee bar’s closure on its own accord. He insisted the money was coming from the Government.

In total, the council will give about £32m in business rate relief this year, including £26.7m of mandatory charitable relief for charities or community amateur sports clubs. The owner of The Oxford Times, Newsquest, receives £1,500 in local newspaper relief.

Mr Middleton said: “To the uninitiated this sounds like an impressive list but as I assume you know, these are all Government-mandated schemes imposed and essentially funded by central government. None of them are initiatives created or provided by Oxford City Council as you implied.”

He said it was ‘misleading and disingenuous’ for the council to ‘claim credit’ for them.

He added that perceived poor management of shared public spaces, high parking charges, lack of easy access to the city centre and a focus on chain stores had all harmed 'micro businesses' which employ nine people or less.

He said: “It has been massively compounded by the opening of the Westgate Centre, which itself is only partially let and has largely cannibalised traders from elsewhere in the city, leaving large holes in the main trading streets.

“There appears to have been no contingency plans laid to deal with the devastating effects of this development on other businesses in the city, especially smaller operators.”

A city council spokesman said: “Oxford City Council works hard to support local businesses.

“We continue to provide relief to small businesses both through the Small Business Rate Relief scheme and the Spring budget additional relief, Supporting Small Business Relief as a result of the 2017 revaluation.

“In total we have issued some £31m in different types of business rates relief to more than 1,700 local businesses in the current financial year.”

The council also said a further statement would follow.