Posted: Wed 12th Apr 2023
The Labour Party has launched a "five point plan" which it says will "save" struggling high streets.
Retail locations in areas across the UK have been hit by rising costs due to "Tory economic mismanagement, steep tax rises and spiking energy bills", the party said as Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves visited Great Yarmouth ahead of May's local elections.
According to Labour's analysis, the UK has lost over 6,000 pubs, almost 4,000 local shops and 9,000 bank branches since 2010.
To tackle the issue, the party said it would introduce an immediate cut to business rates by raising the threshold for Small Business Rates Relief in 2023-24. The decrease, which Labour said would be worth around £2,600 to the average pub, café or restaurant, would be funded by increased the Digital Services Tax paid by large online firms like Amazon and Facebook.
Labour's long term policy is to scrap business rates.
On energy bills, Labour said it would allocate £700m in vouchers for small businesses to install energy saving measures such as insulation, heat pumps or a switch to electric vehicles. The scheme would be paid for by Labour's proposed changes to the windfall tax on oil and gas giants.
For the issue of late payment, Labour promised to require big businesses to report on their payment practices in annual reports. It said:
"Large companies have a duty to report publicly on their payment policies, practices and performance. However, this reporting process is not integrated into the financial reporting process of these companies, and many companies continue to pay their suppliers late at the expense of smaller businesses."
The remaining two plans are:
Giving councils new powers to take over empty shops and reopen them without consent from the property's owners. The premises would be offered to local small business for a discounted rent.
Introducing new town centre police patrols and a mandatory antisocial behaviour police lead for every local neighbourhood as part of its pledge for 13,000 neighbourhood police and PCSOs. A statutory duty would be implemented for local organisations to cooperate to tackle antisocial behaviour.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said:
"Britain's businesses already give so much to our economy, and hold a huge amount of potential and promise just waiting to be unlocked. But they're being held back by 13 years of Tory economic failure. The Tories crashed the economy, and business and working people are still paying the price on higher interest rates.
"With our five point plan, Labour will work in partnership with businesses and local communities to get our high streets thriving again. This is just one of the ways we will deliver our mission to secure the highest growth in the G7, so every part of our country can feel better off."
Commenting on Labour's plans, Charlotte Thomason, head of policy at Enterprise Nation, said:
"It's great to see Labour coming out firmly on the side of small businesses. Tackling the UK's epidemic of late payment culture will be a welcome policy for the thousands of small businesses struggling to get paid each month.
"We also heartened to hear about the financial support for small businesses with energy bills and lower business rates, although we remain cautious on how these policies are going to be paid for.
"Supporting small and micro businesses is essential if we are to help the economy grow, but robbing Peter to pay Paul, and taxing larger companies in the supply chain, often results in unintended consequences. We therefore look forward to working with Labour to discuss how small businesses can be supported to survive and thrive under a Labour government creating prosperity for all companies, large and small."
Conservative party chairman Greg Hands described Labour's announcement as "unfunded, uncosted spending pledges". He added:
"We have a £13 billion package in place now to support firms with the cost of business rates as we push on with our mission to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt to help businesses right across the UK."