The pandemic has been devastating for the high street. Shops and hospitality businesses are being closed and local jobs are being lost. Online deliveries have boomed. A trend which was already present has accelerated. In the end consumers will decide which shopping and leisure channels are preferred, but the playing field is far from level. There is a large fiscal imbalance where, for example, a shop in a town centre could have business rates comparable to a large online distribution centre. This has been recognised to some extent by the current business rates holiday.
Following the end of the pandemic, business rates should be scrapped. They represent an unreasonable relative burden on businesses with high street premises and present an unjustifiable competitive advantage to online retailers. Indeed, it could be argued that high street businesses should be fiscally advantaged because they contribute more to local employment and aesthetics. The pandemic has also spotlighted inequalities within society and fiscally encouraging remote prosperity at the expense of local communities does not feel right.
Of course, tax revenues are required. The loss of income from business rates could be replaced by a sales tax or possibly an increase in VAT. The vital requirement is that online businesses, particularly ones which are based abroad, should pay their full share.
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