The speech made by Damien Moore, the Conservative MP for Southport, in the House of Commons on 10 December 2020.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Such is the depth of feeling on this issue of many right hon. and hon. Members that it has been well over-subscribed. Many may get up to talk about their high streets, but no high street has the international repute of my main high street, Lord Street in Southport, which was the basis on which the Champs Élysées was built—the most glamorous street in the world.
Before I go into further detail on that, may I just add that we have great shopping high streets: Ainsdale, Churchdown and Birkdale. You know that, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you have shopped there yourself and took away some great gifts for the people whom you know.
I would just like to thank the Minister and the Government for all the support that has been given throughout the covid crisis. It has been invaluable to many businesses in enabling them to stay open, and we need to move forward into the future with more sustained support. One thing that we all know—this is absolutely clear—is that the internet is the biggest challenge to our high street. It has already been said that a fifth of sales and a third of retail sales during the pandemic have been online. If we were to reverse that trend, there are things that we need to do. We need to have a look at business rates. Business rates need recalibration because it is absolutely clear that, under the current model, businesses will not be sustainable. If we get to grips with business rates, it gives those businesses on our high streets a thriving chance.
When we look at the future of our high streets, we have not only to look at business rates, but to increase footfall. Getting people into our towns, villages and cities is absolutely vital to their survival. The mess that we see in London, where roads are closed and people are prohibited from going down streets, is happening elsewhere. It is happening in my local area as well. I point out to the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) that my local Labour council is stopping people from going down streets, from getting to the high street and from getting into the places that they want to get to. People want ease of access. Having worked in retail for 20 years, I know that ease of access is the best way to get people into our towns and cities.
I say to the Minister that we do need to intervene when it comes to parking charges. The biggest issue for every retailer in my town is parking charges. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 says that parking charges should be proportionate, and not undermine the vitality of our towns. In my town, those charges do just that, and I want this Government to intervene on that.
We have a town deal, which is great. Not just Conservative towns, but Labour towns, too, will benefit from this significant funding stream. In our town, this will be matched by the private sector, which has committed more than £300 million if we get the £50 million that we put in for.
Last week, we all went out, I hope, to celebrate Small Business Saturday. That should not be an annual celebration; it should be a way of life, and we should all support our local businesses weekly.