The British high street provides so much more than shopping – it offers a place to meet up with friends and family and a living to local people and small business owners. However, we must use them or lose them.
Internet shopping saw an understandable rise during the pandemic. When we could not go out it made sense to have things delivered to us. In fact, during the pandemic, online sales have gone up by more than £5.3 billion. While internet shopping is convenient, its rise poses a huge threat to our high streets. The more we shop on internet giants like Amazon, the less
the money we pump into our local economy.
Online businesses have much lower running costs, while those on the high street must pay business rates and rental costs. In 2020 I spoke in the budget debate and called for a digital sales tax.
For too long the likes of Amazon have failed to pay their fair share. We have supported their business and if they want to continue operating in this country they should start to contribute fairly. It is said a digital sales tax could raise something in the region of £2 billion.
Given the levels of spending the government has recently had to undertake I believe this tax would help us to start balancing our books. Of course, a digital sale tax alone will not solve the problems our high streets are facing. Before the pandemic and the offer of business rates relief, I campaigned for business rates reform. Visits to our local high streets showed that small businesses were unfairly affected by business rates, while out of town business parks with free parking and large businesses often benefitted.
During the pandemic, our high streets were noticeably quieter, however many staff still worked on the frontline in supermarkets and other essential shops throughout this time. I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Customer Service and have been working alongside the Institute of Customer Service on their “Service with Respect” campaign. This campaign aims to work with Government, businesses, and consumers to drive down abuse & hostility directed towards front-line customer service staff across all sectors, including those working on our high streets.
As part of their Service with Respect campaign, ICS has been periodically commissioning research into this issue. They found that in June 2020 customer service staff across all sectors had seen increasing levels of hostility, with 56% having experienced abuse from customers during the pandemic. These are the people who have kept our country running during the pandemic and it ought to be a bare minimum that these workers are treated with respect so they can continue to safely carry out their jobs. As our high streets get busier again, it is important that those working there are treated with respect and that abuse towards these workers is driven out.