I want to refer to some of the local issues that I hope this Budget can address for my own community, with a particular focus on Putney High Street, Roehampton High Street, Southfields village and, of course, Danebury Avenue, also in Putney. I could make a long speech on my broader views on this Budget, on the need for reform of the Treasury, and on how the OBR forecast has changed so significantly. I could make a speech on the fact that probably one of the biggest challenges in British politics is the seesawing of resources in and out of public services and the resulting inability of those services ever to plan properly for the long term. However, that is probably a speech for another day.
What I want to do today is focus on the issues in my local community. It is fair to say that for most of us, the problem of rent and rates, and the impact that they have not just on local businesses but on local shops, local restaurants and bars is really acute. That is particularly true in London, where the sense is that rent and rates only ever go up during the good times, but when we hit more difficult times my local businesses never see them come down. As a result, we have inflated rateable values that then give a legacy of high rates and rents that feeds forward into the future.
High streets are facing a significant structural challenge as they move from being, historically, transaction centres where people went to buy things to being social centres. What people and communities get out of the high street has significantly changed, and it will not change back. I particularly welcome the initial ideas that the Chancellor set out in relation to a digital sales tax, but I encourage the Treasury to bring those proposals forward sooner rather than later and to properly understand what taxation looks like in the context of the high street when we know that, in the future, high streets will be social centres rather than transaction centres.
I have a business improvement district in Putney. I am sure that the announcement of the future high streets fund—the £675 million that will be available to communities to improve and support high streets—is extremely welcome and necessary. This is not the first time that, locally, we have asked for funds to improve our high street. The council itself is putting in £640,000 of investment to improve Putney High Street, to improve the experience of shoppers and pedestrians, and to improve traffic flow. I have to say that, when we asked City Hall for investment in our local community, our bid was not seen as a high priority. I am delighted that the Government recognise that communities such as mine need investment to support the high street to keep going and make a transition. I ask the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Chief Secretary when she winds up the debate, simply to make sure that they do not make the mistake of giving any of that £675 million to City Hall. If that happened, I can only assume that, yet again, my community would be de-prioritised for investment in our local high streets. Instead, the money should be given directly to local councils to make the decisions that they know are important to improve high streets such as those around Roehampton, Putney and Southfields—the community that I am so proud to represent.
May I also ask the Secretary of State to look at whether that £675 million can be brought forward and invested sooner rather than later so that it can make an impact now, rather than in several years’ time? I have looked at the phasing of the fund, and my personal view is that high streets need support now, not later.
I do, of course, welcome the announcement that businesses whose properties have rateable values of £51,000 and lower will see business rates cut by a third. That will help 90% of properties, but, again, I say to the Secretary of State that, for those of us representing communities in London, we will have a disproportionate number of the properties in that final 10%—the businesses that are not covered by that measure. I ask him to continue to look particularly at how businesses in London can continue to thrive. We do not want to be a place where independent shops literally cannot afford to start up and survive. Even some of our high street chains are finding it hard, as we can see with the loss of Marks & Spencer in Putney.
May I also add to the communities part of this debate and say that I very much recognise and welcome the steps that the Government and the Treasury are taking on affordable credit? They are absolutely vital to help a whole generation of often young people, but also people on low incomes, to make sure that they do not pay through the nose for the kind of credit that the rest of us are used to having.
May I ask the Secretary of State to make sure that, at the very least, the Government get out of my way so that I can get my Creditworthiness Assessment Bill through this House with all-party support? Last Friday I came here to try to move my Bill on to its next stage, and it was opposed by an MP and by Government Whips. I ask the Government that, the next time I bring the Bill to the House on
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State set out how we want to support people who have the dream of home ownership, but if they cannot build up a credit history, even with the reliable rental and council tax payments that they make every month, it fundamentally does not allow them to make the case to lenders that they should the best credit opportunities on offer. It really is time for the Government and the House to pass a Bill that can genuinely make rent count. As someone representing a community where perhaps 50% of households rent, I can say that this is absolutely crucial to making sure that this is not just a Government who help people to get by, but a Government who help people to get on.