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Future High Streets Fund

Volume 655: debated on Monday 4 March 2019

I am delighted to announce that this year will see the return of our Great British High Street awards, in proud partnership with Visa. That is part of this Government’s determination to keep high streets at the heart of our communities, not least supported by our future high streets fund.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Paignton town centre is in need of reshaping and regeneration to create an attractive destination for the future, hence it will be the focus of a bid for support from the future high streets fund. Can the Minister confirm that Paignton is precisely the type of town centre he has in mind that will benefit from this fund?

My hon. Friend is a redoubtable campaigner for his high street and I have previously met him and local authority leaders to talk about their ambition for their area. It is a competitive fund, but Paignton is indeed well placed to apply for this transformative cash, led I am sure, as always, by my hon. Friend.

One of the problems the Minister might encounter in improving the high streets could be described as a roadblock, because it is a roadblock: the problem is that our roads are just so poor. I was disappointed that Hull missed out on the transforming cities fund to improve a road that is notorious for being an absolute roadblock: Calvert Lane. Will the Minister therefore look favourably on Hull when it bids for this money again—or alternatively just give us the cash now?

I suspect that we are going to hear many special pleadings on behalf of hon. Members’ constituencies across the House. This is an ambitious fund that is designed to transform towns, just like the towns fund that we have announced today. I am sure that the hon. Lady and the area that she represents will bid for all the appropriate funds to drive forward her community.

One of the main findings of the recent Select Committee inquiry into town centres was that strong local civic leadership is crucial. Given that, may I ask the Minister to ensure that, when judging future bids to the fund, strong local leadership is a key criterion?

My hon. Friend, an expert in this area, rightly points to the excellent Select Committee report on high streets. He will be aware of the recommendation of Sir John Timpson, one of Britain’s best loved and best known retailers, that local leadership should be key to driving forward the future of the high street, and we will certainly be looking at that as part of these fund applications.

The Government’s plans for a puny 2% digital tax on mega online firms that avoid paying their fair share is an insult to shops on the high street in towns such as Grange, Windermere and Kendal. Will he support higher taxes on tax dodgers, which would raise enough money to slash business rates for our town centres and help to save our high streets?

The Government have been clear that online taxation in retail needs to be done as part of an international agreement, but we have also been clear that, if we cannot get such an agreement, we will come forward with our own 2% tax on online retail to ensure that we can continue, as we did in the last Budget, to give relief to those retailing on our high streets.[Official Report, 4 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 8MC.] This year, we have already slashed a third off the business rates of shops with a rateable value of under £51,000.