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Covid-19: High Street Businesses

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2020

What fiscal steps he is taking to support retail and high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906050)

As the House will be aware, in recognition of the extreme disruption caused by the pandemic, the Government have delivered one of the most generous and most comprehensive packages of support around the world. That response is so far totalling close to £200 billion. In addition to affordable Government-backed loan finance, the job retention scheme and deferred VAT, retail businesses have also received specific support, including a 12-month business rates holiday for all eligible retail businesses in England and retail, hospitality and leisure grants worth £10,000 or £25,000.

Since being elected, I have raised on many occasions the issue of the economic and social loss that online trading is inflicting on our towns, cities and high streets, and the pandemic has accelerated that problem. Must not the Government now start to consider a VAT-style online sales tax?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, many offline businesses are also extremely effective online businesses; as Adam Smith almost said, we are a nation of virtual shopkeepers. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are committed to a fundamental review of business rates. We published a call for evidence in July and invited views on reform and on potential alternative taxes, including an online sales tax. Our intention is carefully to consider the merits and risks of introducing such a tax, and I encourage all Members, including my hon. Friend, to contribute their views.

While a number of wealthier inner-city areas have received over £100 million each in rate relief and small business grants, many constituencies in the midlands and the north have been left behind, with some receiving barely a fifth of that support or even less—Dudley North, Rother Valley, Blyth Valley, Don Valley, Penistone and Stocksbridge, Wolverhampton North East, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Redcar, Sedgefield—I could go on. Is that what the Government meant by levelling up?

As the Chancellor has already pointed out, the Government’s intention has been to support vulnerable people, vulnerable businesses and vulnerable families across the country. As he has also pointed out, the evidence appears to be that we have been very successful, with the most targeted support being most heavily felt at the lower end of the income spectrum. If numbers in the aggregate do not please the hon. Gentleman, let me simply tell him the reaction of one chief executive of a retail business in this country, who said to me that without the furlough scheme, that company alone would have laid off 30,000 people. With the furlough scheme, it has been able to continue and recover.