Ministers accused of being ‘unwilling’ to help high streets

A cross-party group of MPs has accused the government of being ‘unwilling’ to make the necessary changes to help struggling high streets.

Chair of the housing, communities and local government committee, Clive Betts said while the government has ‘broadly recognised the scale of the problem’, it is not will willing to make the ‘radical change required that reflects the realities of modern commerce’.

In February, the committee published a report, which warned the outlook for high streets and town centres will become ‘increasingly bleak’ unless the government reforms the business rates and planning systems.

In particular, it called for changes to the business rates systems for high street and online retailers.

Yesterday (7 May), the committee published the details of the government’s official response to that report.

The response highlights the government’s Future High Streets Fund, which it claims will ‘renew and reshape town centres and high streets’.

But the document also rejects claims made by the committee that the ‘burden of business rates falls unfairly’ on high street retailers.

‘Higher-value property in higher-value locations bear a relatively higher burden of tax. This is integral to the nature of property tax,’ the report states.

‘Property taxes play an important role in the taxation system of most modern economies. They provide a relatively stable source of revenue, are easy to collect and difficult to avoid, and in the UK context, can be clearly linked to local authorities, which they fund.’

Commenting on the official response, Mr Betts said the UK needs a system that spreads the tax burden fairly.

‘It is welcome that the government has broadly recognised the scale of the problem, and that they have taken on some of our suggestions such as reforms of Business Improvement Districts and enhancing the High Street Task Force that could help the high street,’ said Mr Betts.

‘However, in too many areas they are unwilling to make the radical change required that reflects the realities of modern commerce, and gives shops on the high street a fighting chance.

‘The government has too readily decided to stick to the status quo, rather than examining the range of radical options to the taxation system that we propose in order to save the high street which it simply dismisses as too challenging,’ added Mr Betts.

‘It is equally disappointing that they have declined to pause the proposed permitted development rights. There is little point in empowering local authorities to develop plans that address the specific needs of their areas if they can be so easily circumvented.’

Photo by Romtomtom

Jamie Hailstone
Senior reporter - NewStart


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