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High Street Businesses

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

High streets are changing and the Government are committed to helping communities adapt their high streets to those changes. We have taken action following the Portas review by lifting planning restrictions, doubling small business rate relief, and providing towns with a package of support to drive forward their local economy. I look forward to giving evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee inquiry into retail in due course.

High streets obviously need to provide a diverse offer in order to succeed, and the provision of street markets and farmers markets are particularly important to many high streets. There is a significant problem in a number of areas because we cannot get road closure orders to allow such markets to go ahead. What work is the Department doing, together with the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that markets thrive, and what will the Government do to develop a market strategy?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will support his local market. I had the pleasure of supporting Sevenoaks local market last month, and there is an initiative across the country—love your local market—in which I hope he is participating. I will look into the particular point he raises about highway closures.

In my constituency, a number of businesses in the high street have unfortunately closed. If they go into liquidation, their employees receive pay arrears, holiday pay and notice pay, if necessary from the national insurance fund. If the business just ceases trading and is eventually struck off, its employees do not get pay arrears, holiday pay or notice pay. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that anomaly in the law?

I would be happy to do so, but I hope my hon. Friend will not be too gloomy about the state of the high street. He will know that, in the most recent year for which we have figures, some 22,900 store-based retailers opened and 21,000 closed—more stores were set up than were closed.[Official Report, 18 June 2013, Vol. 564, c. 3MC.]

Is it not time that we looked at the impact of business rates on the high street, and particularly at the glacial speed of appeals and revaluations?

My hon. Friend will know that we have doubled the small business rate relief for the past three and a half years, which has helped more than 500,000 businesses. In the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, we postponed the revaluation to give businesses more certainty—a larger number of them were forecast to lose under the revaluation than would have gained.

Does the Minister agree that the prospects for our high streets would be a lot rosier if local authorities did more to encourage motorists into our town centres by reducing parking charges?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We must get the balance right. It is important that local authorities do not freeze trade out of their local high streets. One action we have taken following the Portas review is to encourage local authorities to look at the total local economy and ensure that there are not undue restrictions on encouraging people to come into the high street.