How the budget aims to breathe new life into our high streets

Colchester High Street. Picture: Jessica Hill

Colchester High Street. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

A raft of new policies were announced in the budget to address Britain’s high streets woes.

Terry Baxter

Terry Baxter - Credit: Archant

A new 2% digital services tax on UK revenues of big technology companies with global sales of more than £500m will redress the balance to give a much-needed boost to bricks and mortar traders.

In a move that will also be welcomed by shop, hotel and restaurant owners, business rates bill for firms with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will be cut by third over two years.

And £650m was pledged for what Mr Hammond called “the transformation of high Streets” from commercial into residential areas, as well as to increase footfall, as he acknowledged that the changes the High Street are facing are “irreversible.”

Terry Baxter, chairman of Ipswich Central which operates Ipswich’s Business Improvement District (BID), said he agreed with Mr Hammond that the High Street needs to be redeveloped. “Its important that town centres become more experiential, not just purely about the retail offered.

“The devil is in the detail, but the fact that the High Street has been given this attention by central government is a very welcome move.

“The tax on online retailers is important in order to level the playing field without directly affecting the consumers. It will help to a point to rebalance the sense of unfairness that exists with retailers.”

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Southwold hit the headlines last year when rates rocketed by an average of 177%.

Chapmans Gifts and Cards in Southwold have seen their business rates increase by 400% in the past couple of years, and co-owner Pete Hart said: “It’s all well and good decreasing rates by a third, but a third of 400% is still a lot to pay.

“I think we need an overhaul of business rates as a whole. It’s an archaic idea to tax businesses on their properties, we should be taxed on turnover or profit.”

On the Future High Streets fund, he added: “Anything to support the high street is welcome, but I doubt places like Southwold will see any of it. Until we see the details we can’t be sure of the impact it will have.”

In another move to help boost town centres, business rates relief was announced for all lavatories made available for public use.