Thank you, Sir Alan, for calling me to speak in this extremely important and pertinent debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Harrington on securing it. It is a pleasure to follow Ann Coffey, who has immense knowledge of the subject, and has made a good pitch for what she thinks should be the future of our town centres.
There is no doubt that our retail sector is undergoing a fundamental and lasting structural change, and that the full force of the internet is being felt. In the past few months, HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster, to name a few companies that once had a successful business model, have succumbed quickly as their business model, overtaken by the pace of change in technology, has become obsolete. Traditional retailing is being eroded and is likely to give way to e-retailing.
Destination retailing is joining e-retailing as the focus for many of our multiple chains. It is said in retail that the customer is king, and it is impossible to stem the tide of what is happening. I am chairman of the all-party town centres group, and I think it is important to manage that fundamental change in our town centres and high streets. That is what I want to speak about today. We must look carefully in many areas at how we manage the change because many things need to be done. I want to focus on three issues.
The first issue is business taxation. Rents are falling in many small and medium town centres, but business rates, which are one of the greatest costs for retail businesses, are not following that pattern. I understand why the Government may not want a business rate revaluation at the moment, but the Minister and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury should consider freezing business rates in the forthcoming Budget, to give a fighting chance to small businesses in our town centres that might not benefit from small business rate relief.