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High Street Businesses

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

Our comprehensive economic response to business is worth more than £352 billion, including grants, the furlough scheme, tax deferrals, and business rates relief. We have extended the protection of commercial tenants from eviction and debt enforcement due to non-payment of rent until 25 March 2022.

Businesses in Luton South, whether they are in the town centre, Bury Park or High Town, have told me that additional support is required to safeguard their future and local jobs. Small businesses need Government to bring forward a plan to support them as we recover, particularly those that have had to take out loans to pay their rent. Does the Minister recognise that a proper debt restructuring plan will be vital in alleviating the burden of debt and in helping small businesses get back on their feet?

It is important, yes, that first we reopen. I am glad that the Prime Minister is making encouraging signs regarding 19 July, so that small businesses in particular can welcome back customers and start to recover; that helps get into the recovery. We will continue to flex and extend our support for those businesses. Much of that support extends to September and beyond.

Businesses in Ilford represented by Ilford business improvement district have been damaged so severely by the pandemic, often closing or finding their revenues down to about 30% of what they were pre pandemic. Many of those businesses now have significant debts and rent arrears. I would like to know, as would businesses in Ilford, what plans the Minister has to support the thousands of businesses struggling to pay their rent.

I have talked about reopening and recovery. We need to build back better and build resilience into our high streets and the ecosystems that make our communities. We have extended the moratorium on rents until next year so that we can legislate to encourage proper conversations between landlords and tenants. We are also reviewing the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

Many businesses on our high streets face financing their reopening in July while dealing with quarterly rents, emergency loan repayments, business rates and VAT deferrals, all while furlough support is being withdrawn. UKHospitality has now warned that the sector faces coming out of lockdown with more than £6 billion of Government debt. Not all sectors are going to bounce back overnight; they need a Government who are on their side at this crucial time. Does the Minister think it is fair for hospitality businesses to pay a £100 million business rates bill from 1 July? Why do the Government not extend the relief period, as the Labour-led Welsh Government have done, and what discussions is he now having on the root-and-branch reform of business rates to allow the reintegration of the high street that was promised in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto but has still not been delivered?

Different businesses and sectors have different views on furlough. UKHospitality is explaining that furlough is starting to become a problem, while other sectors want it extended further. On business rates and other support, the Chancellor deliberately went long in his Budget; he erred on the side of generosity. It was always about data, not dates, so that was always going to be flexible. The fundamental business rates review that we are conducting will report back this autumn.