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Covid-19: High Street Businesses

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2020

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904361)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904368)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904372)

As Members will know, the Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of support for high-street businesses affected by the pandemic. In particular, the Government are giving retail, hospitality and leisure businesses a year’s business rates holiday; protecting commercial tenants from eviction and debt recovery; offering grants of up to £25,000 to eligible businesses; and making sure that businesses have access to the financing they need as quickly as possible. We stand ready to take further steps, as necessary.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I recently visited a brilliant independent furniture store, Rooms, right in the centre of Keighley, which is run by Andrew Foster, his wife Janine and son Joe. They and many others welcome the 100% business rate relief this year but are concerned about next year and indeed about the fairness of the business rate structure when we consider pure online businesses and those based in premises. Will my right hon. Friend continue to review this area in the light of covid and look more closely to create a fairer business rate structure?

I am delighted to hear about Rooms, and many businesses in my constituency have reopened. Reopening the economy is the central step we need for our national recovery. As my hon. Friend will know, we have committed to a fundamental review of the business rates systems and published some comprehensive terms of reference for the review at the spring Budget. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting businesses and have taken actions to reduce the burden of rates, which will save businesses more than £13 billion in the next five years.

It is no secret that Chancellors have an overarching influence across all Departments. Within my Lincoln constituency’s county of Greater Lincolnshire we are faced with major local government reorganisation. Does the Treasury take the view that for the UK’s second largest county a single unitary authority would be in the best financial interests of my constituents when enforcing forthcoming local government reform and devolution?

It would be wrong for me, as a Minister, to offer a view on this, but I can tell my hon. Friend that my personal experience has been that the more streamlined, the clearer the lines of authority and the more integrated and shared approach that is taken, the more effective the infrastructure delivery is likely to be.

I have been visiting high-street businesses in Wantage, Didcot, Faringdon and elsewhere, and they are hugely grateful for the furlough scheme, the grant scheme and the business rates holiday, but what they most want now is footfall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be the priority? Will he confirm that he is considering all measures to increase footfall on the high street?

I absolutely confirm that. The reason we have backed high-street firms so strongly all the way through is precisely that we recognise the central importance of these sectors to getting Britain’s high streets back firing on all cylinders. My hon. Friend will know that we have also introduced the Business and Planning Bill to help businesses in England get back on their feet, and we have accelerated nearly £100 million of investment in town centres and high streets, through the towns fund this year, to the same end.