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Support for the High Street

Volume 648: debated on Tuesday 6 November 2018

As my hon. Friends will know, in the Budget, we allocated £1.5 billion to supporting our high streets, including £675 million for our future high streets fund, and reduced business rates for smaller retailers by one third for the next two years.

Businesses in my constituency are giddy with excitement at this huge reduction in business rates. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what proportion of businesses on the high street are going to benefit from this?

I am also giddy with excitement about this, and giddy with excitement to be able to inform my hon. Friend that up to 90% of smaller retailers, many of them in our high streets, will benefit from this package. That is in complete contrast to Labour’s policy of putting up taxes on small businesses. That is no way to support our high streets; it is Labour’s way to destroy business and jobs.

On 1 December, I will be visiting retailers in Rugby town centre to support the Federation of Small Businesses’ Small Business Saturday. These businesses are in a tough and fast-changing environment. Does the Minister agree that the business rate incentive that he mentioned will go some way towards levelling the playing field between those retailers and those who operate online?

I certainly agree. These changes will boost our high streets, and the FSB is to be congratulated on Small Business Saturday. I shall be in Ramsgate with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) speaking to some of his retailers about this. I extend a non-partisan invitation to Labour Members to join us: we will go up our high streets talking to retailers about reducing their rates, and they can talk about the tax increases that they have in store for them.

The very short-term measure to give some businesses relief was announced at the Budget, but why did not the Chancellor announce the real cause of escalating business rates—the investors on our high streets from overseas who are really exploiting the market?

I am slightly disappointed by the approach taken by the hon. Lady, for whom I have great respect, in pouring cold water on a major fiscal move such as this to reduce high street rates by one third, which will benefit approximately 90% of smaller retailers in her constituency. That is a shot in the arm for our high street and a shot in the arm for British business.

In truth, this is very small beans for high street stores. It is correct that some people will benefit, but also correct that many of our town centres and shopping centres have vacancies that this will not even touch, so what more can Government do to address the fundamental unfairness in the system?

The hon. Gentleman is right inasmuch as he points to the fact that high streets need to reinvent themselves—to transition—in order to adjust to the growth in online marketplaces. That is exactly what our future high streets fund is all about, with £675 million going out via local authorities, following competitive bids, to make sure that we reshape those high streets in exactly the way that he would like them to be reshaped, get rid of the shops that are shut down and reinvigorate and rejuvenate the very centres of our communities.