Rishi Sunak vows to slash number of boarded-up shops on UK high streets

Britain’s biggest retailers have urged the former chancellor to cut business tax

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 July 2022 22:31 BST
Mr Sunak will also pledge to expand police powers in public places
Mr Sunak will also pledge to expand police powers in public places (Reuters)

Rishi Sunak has vowed to take action to reduce the number of boarded-up shops on Britain’s high streets by the middle of the decade if he wins the Tory leadership contest.

The former chancellor, who has struggled to gain momentum in the race to replace Boris Johnson in No 10, said he would remove the hurdles that stand in the way of local authorities quickly seizing and repurposing empty commercial buildings.

In an attempt to target antisocial behaviour, Mr Sunak will also pledge to expand police powers in public places, and to double fixed penalty notices for those who graffiti or drop litter in town centres.

Research by the centre-right think tank Onward has estimated that there are 58,000 shops empty across the UK, with 13,200 boarded-up premises in the North and 13,500 in London.

The leadership contender insisted he would “slash the number of empty shops by 2025”, but his team declined to provide a specific target on how many shuttered shops Mr Sunak would like to see reopen.

The former chancellor also said he would build on proposals contained in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which include giving councils the power to hold a rent auction when a town-centre shop has been empty for more than a year, if his bid for No 10 is successful.

Mr Sunak said: “I understand the vital role that high streets play in local communities. I don’t just want them to survive; I want them to thrive.

“I want to slash the number of empty shops by 2025 and make sure they are turned into thriving local assets, supporting skills, local businesses, economies and creating jobs. They will be joined by vital public services – like police stations and job centres.”

He added: “We should all take pride in our high streets, so I will crack down on antisocial behaviour, graffiti, littering, through extended police powers and increased fines. I have been clear that I plan to rebuild our economy; our high streets are a crucial part of that.”

It comes as frontrunner Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, insisted she is “fighting for every vote” in the contest. Ms Truss has taken the lead over Mr Sunak in polls of Conservative members, who will receive their ballots next week.

But both have faced calls from a group of the UK’s biggest retailers to cut business rates. Last week the Retail Jobs Alliance – which includes Tesco, Greggs and Sainsbury’s – accused the candidates of failing to prioritise the high street, as companies are being hammered by the so-called shops tax amid spiralling inflation.

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