Retail Strategy — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon 2:30 pm, 10th July 2019

Indeed. One of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s findings was that local authorities have an important part to play in ensuring the future of our high streets. I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s engagement with his local authority to ensure that it takes measures to improve what will be a changing high street, but a lively one.

Returning to the industrial strategy, I do not believe that retail has been given enough focus. I am aware that the Retail Sector Council has been set up, with representatives from the industry liaising with the Government, and that a number of workstreams have been drawn up and are already producing work. However, I fear that what we are doing in those workstreams is looking at the detail of current problems, rather than doing what we need to do, which is to produce a longer term strategy and vision to build and strengthen the retail sector, addressing the challenges we know about and those that may yet come, which we need to scan the horizon for.

There have been some examinations recently of the situation faced by high streets in particular—of course, high streets are one part of the retail sector, but not the whole part. I have already referred to the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which is called “High streets and town centres in 2030”. As we have heard today, many such reports have identified the current business rates system as a real problem and noted the huge disparity in costs between online businesses and shops, including the rents that shops pay. Clearly, that is not the only issue, but when many of us heard about the online tax in the Chancellor’s last Budget statement, we thought it would be a means of addressing this problem of the disparity between online businesses and physically present businesses and shops.