Urgent measures needed to rescue hospitality and high streets from irreversible lockdown decline
Scrap business rates, freeze parking charges and halve alcohol duty in radical to save Britain’s pubs, restaurants and high streets from irreversible decline, warns Brendan Chilton.
The lockdown measures imposed by the Government to curtail the spread of Covid-19 have decimated our high streets and brought the hospitality sector to its knees. We are currently in the worst recession for 300 years with unemployment rising as just as quickly as Government debt spirals out of control. Radical action is needed if we are to restore the fortunes of the British economy to save our high streets and revive the hospitality sector.
With the vaccine roll out, our attention as a society must be directed toward economic recovery and ensuring our newly found independence from the European Union is used to ensure we become more competitive and productive. To that end, the Independent Business Network has produced a radical plan that the Government could implement immediately to get key British industry’s back on its feet to ensure our economy begins the long road to recovery. to grow again.
Many family-owned and family-run businesses have been kept afloat this year because the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has provided furlough schemes and other measures to prevent them from going bust. But this is not enough. We now need a plan for growth. Business owners know that the outdated system of business rates is an extremely expensive process. The Chancellor can support family-owned and family-run businesses by abolishing business rates for the next financial year, just as he did last year. This will save businesses from an enormous £15 billion, which can be re-invested to expand their firms, drive innovation or by taking on new staff to aid our recovery.
Local councils must be prevented from acting as a tollbooth against growth, and so the Government should pass legislation to ensure that town centre parking charges are frozen for the coming year. This will allow customers to spend up to £872 million in shops and small businesses providing a crucial cash injection for growth. With more and more people working from home, certainly in the short to medium term, there is a real opportunity to revitalise our high streets and see them become a place of trade and commerce once more, as well as places of bustling social interaction. Our high streets are the best place to begin that recovery the moment restrictions are lifted. But the Chancellor must act now to see that these opportunities are realised.
The hospitality sector has, perhaps, been the hardest hit by the measures imposed by the Government in the past year. The Government should provide all those businesses with a Covid-investment rebate to compensate them for the excess expenditure on ensuring their premises are Covid-secure, only to have them closed subsequently. This would be fair and equitable. When businesses can open again, instead of stoking fear, the Government should actively encourage a new ‘eat-out-to-help-out’ scheme and be positively pro-hospitality. Britain’s landlords, waiters and waitresses are the finest in the world so let’s support them. In addition, the Government must cut alcohol duty to offer the public hope that when normality resumes they will be able to celebrate the nation’s recovery with a cheaper pint in the glorious summer sunshine.
VAT was introduced when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Now we have left the control of the European Union, the Government should work to reduce VAT to lift the burden on business and encourage new start-ups. In his Budget in March, the Chancellor should cut the VAT rate payable by physical retailers to 14 per cent and include alcohol in hospitality’s reduced VAT rates, saving businesses and consumers a combined £8.35 billion. This will also even out the playing field between businesses requiring a physical presence against the multinational giants of Amazon and eBay who have enjoyed enormous profits in the past year as consumers have been forced by the Government to spend online. This policy, a collaboration between equity and fairness and good old-fashioned common sense, will give the public new confidence in the UK’s journey outside the European Union and this faith will help grow our economy.
Now is not the time for the Government to raise taxes or impose austerity. Any attempts to do either will cut off any chance of recovery in 2021. The British nation, characterised by its hard-working, entrepreneurial spirit, has suffered enough in the past year. We now need to let our people off the leash and restore the spirit that has made this country great. The Independent Business Network will be ferocious in its defence of family-owned and family-run businesses. We believe our plan for the revival of the British high street and hospitality sectors will aid the UK’s recovery, and will establish firm foundations upon which business in this country can boom once more.
Brendan Chilton is Co-Founder and CEO of the Independent Business Network
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