High street

Labour has reiterated a pledge to overhaul the business rates system to help revitalise the high street if it wins the general election.

The party has said it will replace business rates with a new system that will level the playing field between the high street and online giants.

The promise is part of a plan to boost small businesses “after 14 years of decline under the Conservatives”.

Speaking at a brewery in his constituency of Holborn and St Pancras at the weekend, Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “We want to replace [business rates] with a system that works better, because at the moment there’s not a level playing field between businesses that are online and those that are sort of bricks and mortar.

“It’s been a problem for a long time, the government hasn’t fixed it and small businesses have all gone through a really hard time in recent years.

“So that’s our plan, we want small businesses to thrive because they are the backbone of our economy and they need that stability in our economy, and they need to know that their energy bills are actually going to be lower and stable.”

The pledge is part of five-point plan to “restore Britain’s high streets”, which Labour first set out in April. It also includes a promise to clamp down on antisocial behaviour through 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PCSOs, while scrapping the £200 threshold for shoplifting to be investigated.

Other measures are rolling out face-to-face banking hubs, new laws to stamp out late payments to small and independent retailers, and giving communities a ‘right to buy’ vacant shops.

The Tories have resisted years of calls from the retail sector for a major overhaul of business rates.

However, Labour has not specified what it would replace the current system with, leading to demands for clarity.

John Webber, head of businesses rates at property consultancy Colliers, said the lack of detail was “highly worrying”.

“Successive Conservative governments have promised to reform the tax, but none have delivered, just making the system more onerous and expensive for the ratepayer as time has gone on,” he said.

“Whilst it is encouraging to read of Labour’s aspiration to breathe life back into our high streets, unless they tell us what they plan to do, how can anyone scrutinise their plans or take their calls for change seriously?”

Webber added: “We need to be able to advise businesses on what kind of taxes they will be paying under a Labour government.

“Businesses deserve to know what is happening so they can plan ahead.”