The speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the House of Commons on 10 December 2020.
As everyone has acknowledged, high streets have had a tough time for several years because of the shift to online shopping, and that trend has been intensified by the covid outbreak. Throughout my time in Parliament, I have tried to campaign in support of local town centres such as High Barnet, New Barnet, East Barnet, Hampden Square, Whetstone, Friern Barnet and all the other small shopping parades in my constituency. I pressed for reductions in business rates, and was pleased to be able to help persuade the previous Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to do that in two successive Budgets. But I do think that the Government need to go further to reform the system in order to reduce business rates for small independent retailers, and to ensure that the big online retailers pay their fair share of tax.
I welcome the introduction of the digital services tax and the international work being led by the UK Government on this important issue, but if our high streets are to survive and thrive, we need urgently to get to the end of this covid crisis. The Government’s programme of covid support has been bigger than anything ever attempted in our nation’s history, including an 18-month business rates holiday, furlough for 9.6 million jobs and £11 billion in business grants. But the only way to safeguard the future of our high streets is to get hospitality businesses fully reopened, especially the wet pubs, which have suffered the greatest restrictions over the longest period. We now have rapid mass testing and the delivery of the vaccine, so I urge Ministers to get covid restrictions lifted the moment that it is safe to do so, including the controversial 10 pm curfew. Let people get back to the pub for a few drinks with their friends and family once again—and please, please, please do not put London into tier 3.
If our high streets and town centres go into terminal decline, it would be a huge loss to our society and our communities. If we value them, we need to use them. Therefore, I encourage everyone, in a covid-secure way, to head out to their local shops, restaurants and pubs, both in the run-up to Christmas and in the months to follow. Our local businesses and high streets need us. It is time to back Barnet and give them our support.