Skip to main content

High Street Outlets

Volume 741: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023

In addition to small business rate relief, under which businesses with a rateable value of less than £12,000 pay no business rates whatsoever, in his autumn statement the Chancellor announced a further business rate support package, worth £4.3 billion over the next five years, to support small businesses and the high street.

My constituents in Flitwick have been dismayed over the past few years as their high street has been gradually hollowed out, losing much-loved businesses and, recently, both their post office and banking facilities. Sadly, that is far too familiar for people in towns and villages across my constituency, where businesses are weighed down by high cost pressures and a business rate system that no longer seems fit for purpose or fair. When will the Government commit to bringing forward the comprehensive business rates reform that my businesses are crying out for, so that we can get back to revitalised, much-loved high streets?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and welcome him to his place in the House.

Of course, we are very concerned about the high street. The pressures on the high street are largely caused by changing consumer habits, but the Government have stepped in to ease pressures, such as through the £20 billion energy bill support scheme and the £17 billion business rate package.

The hon. Gentleman talks about completely scrapping the current business rate system, which Labour has committed to do, but it is incumbent on Labour to set out how it will replace the £25 billion that business rates currently add to the Exchequer. What is the solution? It is not right for him or others simply to say they will scrap that £25 billion without setting out how they will replace it.

The vanishing of Debenhams, Wilko and Paperchase has left huge holes in our town centres— I have lost a Wilko in both Ealing and Acton. Analysis shows that the incentivisation of out-of-town retail is the culprit. Labour has a five-point plan to revive our high streets, putting communities first. What are the Government doing about all this?

I do not accept that, although out- of-town shopping can put pressure on the high street. Local authorities have to be very careful when they give planning consent for out-of-town shopping centres that could put pressure on the high street. That is clearly an important part of the planning process, but it is not the responsibility of central Government, of course. I would be interested to see that five-point plan, but if it includes the scrapping of business rates, which raise £25 billion, I ask the Labour Front Bench team once again—I have yet to receive an answer—where is that money coming from?

Labour-run Leeds City Council has decided that it wants to bring parking charges to my market town of Wetherby—it currently has no parking charges. Does my hon. Friend agree that the investments we are making are all very well, but if local authorities make it harder for shoppers by increasing their costs, that will choke off the high street rather than help it?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and he is absolutely right to say that some local authorities see parking charges as potential revenue raisers, but this is in effect a tax on business. Local authorities can, of course, make charges where appropriate, but they should only cover the cost of maintaining those car parks; they should not be a punitive tax on businesses.

There are streets in the west end of this city, important to our economy, that would certainly benefit from the ability of tourists to reclaim VAT, aren’t there?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point that this Department has looked at carefully. We are concerned about the impact of the withdrawal of that tax concession on businesses, not just for these businesses themselves, but for the other businesses that rely on foreign visitors—I am talking about hoteliers, restauranteurs and so on. We are keen to look at this matter. The Chancellor committed in his autumn statement to review the evidence to see what impact this was having. We will look at that with great interest and make our views known strongly to the Exchequer.