British Retail — [Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 6th March 2013.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport 3:39 pm, 6th March 2013

Thank you, Sir Alan. I will speak really fast, and I apologise to anybody who cannot keep up with me. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Harrington on securing the debate. I also have a background in retail; my first job was at Marks and Spencer when I was 16, and I am still very good at packing groceries.

The debate takes place against a backdrop of record profits for some retailers such as John Lewis and Primark, while we have seen others disappearing over the past few years. On one hand, the growth of internet shopping does not help high-street retailers, because it results in redundancies, and it does not even always result in the same levels of corporation or income tax being paid, as we have seen with some high-profile online retailers. In the modern world, however, we have to realise that online shopping is here to stay, because people will not want to give up the luxury of shopping from their armchairs. It is important that we look at the pros and cons of the move online, including the fact that Britain is at the forefront of e-retailing and provides unique opportunities for kitchen-table entrepreneurs. There is no doubt, however, that it is changing the face of our high streets and threatening jobs in an industry that employs 4 million people.

However, we see success where things have come full circle and people are getting on our high streets things that the internet did not provide for them. I am talking about opportunities to see and touch things and to try on clothes and accessories that they might previously have bought on eBay, and without the hassle of waiting for delivery. That is what a shop in my constituency is providing, and as a result it has smashed its first-year growth targets.

There is also an increasing trend of retailers who started on the internet and now want to dip their toes in the waters of shop trading. Markets offer a great opportunity for them to do that, as do pop-up shops— small spaces that people can use for a couple of weeks and with low overheads—which the Department for Communities and Local Government has been trying and testing.

Given that retail represents about 11 % of the economy but accounts for 32% of business rates, the burden of taxation on the sector is a major issue. The overheads of retail outlets are a huge disincentive, so reform of business rates is desperately needed, and I hope that there will be good news on that in the Budget.

The importance of regenerating the retail sector cannot be overstated. The industry is responsible for nearly 15% of total employment and is crucial to the resurgence of our local economies. It is just as vital to our national economy, generating almost 11% of GDP if we include wholesale. Business, like life, is not plain sailing, but the fact that retailers are continuing to do well is testament to the hard work and support of communities and shopkeepers. I hope that they will be supported by the Government as well.