MPs called on the government to initiate reform in key planning and taxation areas to secure the future of high streets and town centres.
A report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee suggested options of an online sales tax and reforms to business rates to allow high streets to adapt to changing demand, and compete with online retailers such as Amazon on a level playing field.
“Business rates must be made fair. They are currently stacking the odds against businesses with a high street presence and this must end. Tax reforms are needed to level the playing field between online and high street retailers, and we urge the Government to investigate all the options in this area, including an online sales tax,” said Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee.
Finding fault with dated policies and an unfair tax regime, the report sets out a vision for the high street based on locally led strategies, developed with local communities and businesses at the centre, and reflective of evolving commercial and economic patterns.
“It is likely that the heyday of the high street primarily as a retail hub is at an end. However, this need not be its death knell. Local authorities must get to grips with the fact that their town centres need to change; they need to innovate, setting out a long-term strategy for renewal, reconfiguring the town centre and finding new ways of using buildings and encouraging new independent retailers,” Betts added.
Betts asked the government to create a framework a local and national level, that allows high streets and town centres to thrive.
“Local authorities must have the foresight to develop evolving strategies tailored to the needs of their local communities and drive the large-scale transformation needed. Central government must give them the powers, and back them financially, to allow them to put this into practice.”
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has welcomed the findings of the report.
“We welcome this report, which highlights some of the key issues facing high streets in the future and we’re pleased that the findings of the inquiry echo our concerns on business rates,” said James Lowman, chief executive of ACS.
“The rates system still acts as a barrier to investment, with retailers in fear of improving their stores because of the increase in rates bills that follows. We urge the government to act on the recommendations of this report and consider all available options to help retailers invest.”