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The decline of the high street: a liberal solution

June 12, 2018 4:55 PM
By David Thorpe in Liberal Democrat Voice

Ti Luck Thai Takeaway, Sandgate High StreetThe death of the great British high street is an event rarely out of the popular press, and it has been so for a decade.

Mary Portas was appointed in a hail of publicity by David Cameron to find ways to save the high street as far back as 2011, nothing came of that and the problem has become much worse since the increase in business rates introduced last year, the creation of the national living wage and the dent to consumer sentiment caused by the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Now I quite like the national living wage announced by George Osborne and certainly dont think it should be scrapped, so what does that leave?

Well the current system of business rates does precisely the opposite of what liberals want for the economy, because it penalises small shopkeepers and high street stores relative to much larger businesses, including Amazon.

Liberals have historically sought to create an economy full of thousands of little buyers and sellers, rather than oligopies, the tech giants have extreme power in their markets, and the current business rates regime is simply helping the oligopolists against the little guy, so the first act of a liberal government should be to reform business rates to force the large online only retailers to pay their fair share.

But a more radical and profound change, one that would empower policy makers at a local level to boost their high street is the introduction of a local sales tax, to replace VAT,

The rate of this tax could be varied by devolved or local authorities, depending on the health or otherwise of their high street, and the importance of same to the local economy.

Such a policy would be localism in action, and a chance for the state to achieve a deep reform, and strike back against businesses too powerful to need to serve the interest of society.

* David Thorpe was the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Ham in the 2015 General Election

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