Rachael Maskell Budget 2018 Response
Rachael Maskell Budget 2018 Response

The Prime Minister declared austerity to be over and the Chancellor downgraded the prediction that it is coming to an end, but the reality is that each Department is having to make 3% cuts, which hardly backs up those statements. Of course, the corporate giants will still enjoy their £110 billion corporate tax giveaway, while 1,000 people have seen their personal wealth increase by £274 billion over the past five years. For my constituents and many like them up and down the country, the harsh reality of services slashed and under increasing pressure and the daily experience of living in poverty or just scraping by was not addressed by this Budget. We all know that the money is going to the wrong places, and it will take a radical Labour Government to restructure and transform our economy to make sure that we invest in people’s future.

I want to turn to the high streets. On 8 March 2017, resulting from the valuation process and the sharp rises in business rates, we were promised a full business rates review, but it has not happened. Instead, temporary relief schemes have been provided to local authorities, badly managed by local authorities and then withdrawn. We did not hear on Monday about how all the temporary relief has been withdrawn from small businesses. That has had an impact on pubs, which are losing £1,000, and on other small businesses, as well as medium-sized businesses—the anchors of our high streets—which will not be eligible for the one third reduction in their business rates. Again, this will have a massive impact on our high streets, but we did not hear about that from the Chancellor on Monday.

The announcement on business rates was again a short-term one—just two years. All such funding is so short-term; it is about the crisis management of our high streets, although businesses have to sign long— 10-year—leases. They cannot make such long-term investments if the Government do not back them up. We are still seeing the inequality between our high streets and the out-of-town retail sector and between our high streets and online shopping, and they were not properly addressed either. Plasters were thrown out last year and bandages this year, but what we need is surgery—with real reform taking place—on our business rates system. I will not give up until we get real reform.

We need to address the causation of this problem, about which I have yet to hear from this Government. We have investors—mainly offshore investors—owning properties on our high streets, and while the revenue they get from tenants is helpful, it is pocket money compared with the scale of their investments in pension schemes and other investments. That has not been tackled, and until it is, we will continue to have a crisis on our high streets. The escalation in rental values in places such as York is extortionate. The Government are providing relief for such corporate greed, but we need to address the greed where it sits. We are seeing the creation of bubble on our high streets, and when it bursts, there will be a real collapse. I therefore urge the Chancellor to address the real problem of business rates.

I want to highlight the suggestions that have been made about a turnover or profit-based tax, which is far fairer and will create the greater equality that we need. I want to mention one of my streets, Coney Street, in York. We have about 50 empty properties in York, and footfall in Coney Street fell by 9.3% on the previous year and by 15% in the past two years. That is just short of 27,000 fewer shoppers.

Since September 2016, there has been real decline on Coney Street: this year alone, 12 stores have closed. Unbelievably, that—a place where there is no traffic—is where the WH Smith that is meant to be hosting the new post office is based. The current post office, on a prime site in Lendal—the busiest thoroughfare of our city—is to close. It has been there since 1884. That is the most perverse decision, and I urge the Business Secretary, who is listening, to consider the case of York and reverse that decision so that we can have a vibrant post office, rather than losing that public service in a good place on our high streets. Yet another year passes. The Government are ducking the real challenges on our high streets. We need a Labour Government to revive our high streets and communities.

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