A Westminster Hall debate was dominated by calls to shake-up the “unfair” system which hammers “bricks-and-mortal” retailers
Image: Empics Entertainment)
Ministers tonight faced fresh demands to overhaul business rates at next week’s Budget in a bid to revive high streets.
MPs called for a shake-up of the system which allows huge multinational web-based firms to pay less than struggling town centre shops.
They urged the Government to throw “bricks-and-mortar” stores a lifeline as they battle to recover from the coronavirus crisis.
Calling for a “fundamental reform” of business rates, Shadow Treasury Minister James Murray warned: “While high street stores are feeling the burden on business rates, their online competitors, who typically pay far lower business rates on their warehouses, have seen their profits boom, particularly during the pandemic.
“The current system of business rates is simply not fit for the 21st Century.”
Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
He added: “The health and vitality of our high streets is something worth fighting for, yet the Government is ignoring pleas from so many high streets across the country for the support they need to thrive, and in some cases simply to survive.
“High street businesses, and those who work in them, need the Government to act.”
In a boost for the Mirror’s High Street Fightback campaign, Labour backbencher Janet Daby led a 65-minute Westminster Hall debate, rallying MPs to back town and city centres and support business rates’ reform.
“The UK high streets are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic, closures and unreasonable taxation,” she said.
Barnsley East’s Labour MP Steph Peacock said the tax system was “simply not equal”, telling the debate: “We need to level the playing field between our high street businesses and those online”.
She went on: “The demise of our high streets did not begin with Covid, after a decade of austerity.
“Over the last 10 years we have seen 10,000 shops close, 6,000 pubs, 7,500 banks and over 1,100 libraries.
“We need to make sure that we reverse the figures, that we don’t let it continue to decline.
“In the last year alone we have seen 180,000 retail jobs lost – and there are 200,000 at risk this year.”
“Red wall” Tories, who won their seats from Labour at the December 2019 election, also called for reform.
Conservative Matt Vickers, the MP for Stockton South, Co Durham, said: “The business rates regime is simply not fit for purpose.
“They are outdated, they strangle growth and smother investment.
“They disproportionately whack the rail and hospitality sectors.”
Sara Britcliffe, the Conservative MP for Hyndburn and Haslingden Lancs, stressed the need to create “unique and vibrant high streets which people choose as their destination rather than just always clicking a mouse”.
Communities Minister Neil O’Brien admitted: “Without a doubt the Covid pandemic has wrought some heavy blows on both our high streets and our wider economy.
“It has magnified changes that were already taking place before the pandemic – profound changes to the way we shop and live and work right across the UK.”
But he added: “Nonetheless, we know that our high streets are resilient and adaptable and we are committed to helping them, not just to recover in the weeks and months ahead but to thrive and flourish.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers the Budget and Spending Review next Wednesday.