Labour vows business rate reform to help High Street

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Labour has promised to overhaul the business rates system to help revitalise the High Street if elected in the UK general election.

The party has not specified what will replace the current business rates system but said reforms would level the playing field for High Street firms against online rivals.

The party first put forward a plan outlining how it wants to support Britain's small businesses back in November.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that "hard-working small businesses have been held back".

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Business rates are a tax on non-residential property such as pubs, restaurants, warehouses, factories, shops and offices.

The amount businesses pay is based on how much annual rent could be charged on the premises - which is known as the rateable value.

Central government has a significant degree of control over business rates in England, but they are collected by local councils.

On Saturday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told the BBC Labour "want to reform the business rate system in a way that reduces the costs for small businesses and high streets, ensuring that some of the big multinationals and tech companies pay their fair share".

The party would also create "banking hubs" to ensure small business and customers have ready access to cash when on the High Street, Ms Reeves said.

As part of a package of measures, Labour says it would stamp out the late payment of invoices via new legislation to force large businesses reveal their payment practices, as well as revitalising High Streets by cracking down on antisocial behaviour.

Labour also plans new laws to allow smaller firms to qualify for public contracts.

It is seeking to claim the mantle as the party of business, that’s traditionally associated with the Conservatives.

Ms Reeves was joined on the campaign trail by retail guru Mary Portas, who has switched to Labour after advising David Cameron's coalition government on how to revive High Streets in 2010.

Ms Portas said High Streets were vital to "communities and their wellbeing".

She described small business as "the backbone of our economy" which were "left behind terribly" during the Covid-19 pandemic, when shopping habits moved online.

Ms Portas also praised plans to crack down on late payments as "cash flow is vital" to independent businesses.

Previous research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has suggested that more than half of small businesses it surveyed in 2022 had experienced late payments in the three previous months.

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the FSB said it was "good to see late payment addressed by Labour" and that eyes would now "turn towards its manifesto launch to see if the party takes a pro-small business approach".

Speaking ahead of a small-business themed event held by Labour on Saturday, Sir Keir said that entrepreneurs had faced economic instability due to "Conservative chaos".

However, Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake said that "Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a record of taking bold action to support small businesses".

He pointed to previous measures taken by the government, such as freezing business rates for hospitality venues during the pandemic when trade was hit by lockdowns.

Drew Hendry, the economy spokesperson for the SNP, suggested that Labour's plans were "empty promises" for Scottish small business owners.

He added that the SNP had already established the Scottish National Investment Bank, but called for the removal of "red tape, higher costs and worker visa blocks created by Brexit".

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said that the Conservative party had "completely let down business owners time and time again", and that it would also look at "overhauling" the business rates system.