Labour reveals plans to ‘breathe new life’ into high streets with reformed rates

Plans include reforming business rates and tougher laws on shoplifting.

Claudia Savage
Tuesday 09 April 2024 22:30 BST
Analysis from the party claims that under the Conservatives there are 3,700 fewer fruit and veg shops, butchers and newsagents since 2010 (Jacob King/PA)
Analysis from the party claims that under the Conservatives there are 3,700 fewer fruit and veg shops, butchers and newsagents since 2010 (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

Labour has pledged to “breathe new life” into high streets as the party unveils a five-point plan including reforming business rates and tougher laws on shoplifting.

During a visit to Tees Valley on Wednesday Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will unveil their party’s plan to “reverse the Tories’ 14 years of decline” on Britain’s high streets.

Analysis from the party claims that under the Conservatives there are 3,700 fewer fruit and veg shops, butchers and newsagents since 2010, adding that an additional 385 towns have seen their last bank branch close, or announce that they will be closing imminently.

The party also cites record levels of shoplifting – up more than 30% in a single year – and persistently high levels of antisocial behaviour, with a third of the public witnessing or experiencing it in their local area over the past 12 months.

The party’s five point plan aiming to “rejuvenate” high street shopping includes, tackling anti-social behaviour and shoplifting by allowing investigation of shoplifting worth under £200, introducing banking hubs to tackle the decline of in-person bank services, introducing new laws to end late payments and revamping empty or boarded up retail space.

Labour has also said it will replace business rates with a system of “business property taxation” which it claims will level the playing field between high street businesses and online retailers.

Ms Rayner said: “Our town and city centres are an untapped strength of Britain’s economy. Yet across the country the paint is peeling, the pavements are cracking, and people just aren’t getting what they want when they visit town.

“Tory chaos has cost the country dearly, and every region has paid the price. Labour will use the full force of government to get behind our high streets and spark the decade of national renewal that communities deserve.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “The existing unfair system of business rates penalises our community pubs to the tune of £500 million a year and a long-term solution to this problem is badly needed, allowing our businesses the ability to invest in people and places.”

Ms Reeves said: “Labour will breathe new life into our high streets. We’ll create the conditions to get retailers thriving again by replacing business rates, opening hundreds of banking hubs across the country and stamping out late payments to get them paid on time.”

Muntazir Dipoti, National President of the Federation of Independent Retailers (Fed), said: “The Fed has long campaigned for tougher action to be taken against retail crime. Shop theft and anti-social behaviour is a daily blight on our businesses and our lives, and it is reaching epidemic proportions.

“What’s more, neither are victimless. Both theft and anti-social behaviour have significant implications for a store’s viability as well as on the wellbeing of store owners and their employees.”

Ms Cooper stated: “Crime and anti-social behaviour are blighting our once-bustling town and city centres, yet neighbourhood policing in town centres has been heavily cut – that is the legacy of 14 years of Conservative government.

“Labour will take back our high streets with more bobbies on the beat, and we’ll boost patrols with our Community Policing Guarantee, to crack down on shoplifters and keep the public safe.”

Treasury minister Bim Afolami said Labour “don’t have a plan” to pay for the proposals.

He said: “That will mean just like every Labour government before, higher taxes on working families and back to square one. What’s more, the Labour-led Welsh Government is hiking up business rates: it has the highest business rates in Great Britain, and from April 2024 it has slashed business rate relief for the hospitality sector.

“Only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a plan which is working. Cutting the taxes of hardworking families, supporting businesses with the biggest ever tax cut for small business and halving inflation. We should stick to that plan and not go back to square one with Labour.”

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