This Government are supporting our high streets to thrive. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, worth £6.7 billion, launched the high street pledge and the digital high street pilots, and introduced a fairer parking regime and sensible planning changes, and we are celebrating our high streets through the hugely successful annual Great British High Street competition.
Chipping Sodbury has entered the Great British High Street competition. It has been the home of markets since the middle ages. It hosts mock fairs, Victorian evenings and the annual Sheep Search classic car runs. It is home to the Fabulous Baker Brothers. It has seven pubs on the high street alone. Will the Minister therefore welcome Chipping Sodbury’s application and perhaps visit one of the most beautiful high streets in the United Kingdom?
I am absolutely delighted to hear that Chipping Sodbury has entered the competition; it sounds as though it will put in a very competitive bid. The competition has been a wonderful initiative, which has shone a light on high streets around the country, where local people are working hard to make sure their high street remains at the heart of their local community. Last year we received nearly 200,000 votes from members of the public for the finalist, showing how much high streets mean to local people. I wish Chipping Sodbury well and hope to visit it, but I would also encourage other towns in my hon. Friend’s constituency to enter, such as Thornbury, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s dad used to run a ladies’ fashion shop.
The high streets in my constituency—in places such as Buxton and Glossop—are very much the hub of the town, so anything my hon. Friend can do to ensure we do not sit on our laurels and think, “We’ve done it” would be welcome. Will he tell me that we will continue to look to help the high street? As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm following his visit to Glossop last year, it has a vibrant, happening high street that is crucial to the community.
The Government are absolutely taking action to protect our much-loved high streets. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, which will mean that 600,000 of the smallest businesses will not have to pay business rates again. Just last week, I also announced the high street pledge, under which 40 of our country’s largest multiple retailers have signed up to local managers taking part in local initiatives to support the high street. I know my hon. Friend’s area and towns such as Glossop, and they are fantastic places for people to live, work, shop and socialise. I would encourage him to encourage his local areas to put some of those towns forward for the Great British High Street competition 2016.
West Ealing used to boast high street names, but now it is all bookies, charity shops, fried chicken chains and, most prominently, BrightHouse, which is preying on the vulnerable, with white goods at sky-high annual percentage rates and repossession for defaulters. If the Government really want to put the “local” back into local business, will the Minister tell us when he will end the rip-off of BrightHouse?
I am not going to bash businesses that create jobs and growth for our economy, but what I would say to the hon. Lady is that the Great British High Street competition identified some excellent practice, where things were going well and people were working extremely hard, and we have a good practice guide. I suggest that she pop down to Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, which has a fantastic high street and which is the proud recipient of the Great British High Street competition award 2015.
Does the Minister accept that our high streets are in decline? We are losing small retail shops at the rate of 16 a day. We are seeing a decline in retail goods being bought on our high streets. He announced a plethora of things this morning, which he has repeated now, and he has said that that will, hopefully, turn things around. How will we measure the success of what he has announced in turning this decline around?
We have to realise that there is a significant structural shift taking place in retailing, with many people now choosing to buy their goods online and in out-of-town shopping centres, rather than on the high street. We need to make sure, though, that the high street is fit for the 21st century. The Future High Streets Forum, which I jointly chair, is looking at how we restructure our high streets to bring in new investment, and particularly at how we bring more starter homes into our town centres so that we can start to really rejuvenate and regenerate places that offer something that out-of-town shopping and shopping on the internet just cannot compete with.