The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for dramatic changes in order to save local high streets as the economy beings to prepare for a post-COVID world with the scrapping of business rates in Wales being a key priority of the party alongside the establishment of a ‘Welsh Towns Fund’ of £500 million to invest in the future of high streets.
Commenting on their proposals Alison Alexander, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Candidate for Montgomeryshire said: “Saving our high streets recovery in the post-COVID world requires us to be innovative and bold.
“Hit with the dual challenges of being shut for trading for most of the last year and the accelerated rise in online shopping, returning to business as normal is simply not an option. Even before COVID, nearly a million businesses in the UK closed between 2017-2019. Now many businesses, especially small firms, are unable to bear the brunt of the pandemic.
“In the immediate future we need the continuation of the business rates holiday indefinity and better help provided to those businesses that have been excluded from government assistance so far, which we propose is done via an upfront premium grant.
“Our biggest proposal however is to scrap business rates in Wales altogether. The burden of business rates falls hardest on start-ups, small companies, and businesses experiencing difficulties. They have little income and often have to bear this tax out of capital, which excluding large companies is often scarce. They also unfairly penalise high street retailers, which lose out to online rivals who don’t have to pay the same taxes.
“Scrapping business rates would stimulate investment and breathe new life into our high streets. Both Labour and the Conservatives have both recognised at different points how outdated business rates are, yet both continue to support this analogue taxation system in the digital age.
“In Welshpool, we have already seen a rapid decline in the high street in the last twelve months with WH Smith and Sainsbury’s going soon, Olivers Welshpool to shut down this month, the national brands Edinburgh Woollen Mill alongside local stores such as Janeva, and Constructiv also disappearing.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and local economies. They employ local people, ensure our vulnerable are looked after and contribute to our social life. We need substantial action to prevent our highstreets becoming ghost towns, not slight adjustments to an increasingly outdated system.”