Scrapping duty-free shopping will hurt Yorkshire manufacturing, MP claims
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for The Cotswolds, gave the warning during a debate in the Commons on the future of the high street.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated changing shopping habits, with shops closed during lockdowns and many more spending their money online.
And York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell said: “Our identity is drawn from the places where we live, and our high streets are so much part of that, so the emptiness of our high streets at this time must present us with a new opportunity.”
Statistics published in October by the Local Data Company and the accountancy firm PwC showed that a total of 11,120 chain store outlets closed between January and June, while 5,119 shops opened.
The 6,001 net store closures was a record high and compared with 3,509 stores shutting in the first half of last year.
And York was the worst affected, with 55 net shop closures in the first six months of the year, followed by Newcastle upon Tyne with 43 closures and Worcester witnessing 26 stores shutting their doors.
Ms Maskell said: “York's been the worst hit high street in the country, and therefore we're really feeling the pain.”
And she pointed towards the city’s Bishopgate area as an example of how community spirit could help businesses thrive.
But the Government has been told that plans to stop duty-free shopping for overseas visitors after Brexit will further hurt the high street.
In an announcement made in September, the UK Government confirmed that VAT refunds on goods bought by non-EU citizens, along with tax-free airside purchases, would be scrapped after the end of the Brexit transition period.
And Sir Geoffrey said it would be a mistake to believe any change to duty-free shopping “only affects Oxford Street and Bond Street”.
“In fact, it affects the entire United Kingdom,” he said.
He added: “It is estimated up to 40,000 jobs could be lost by this decision all around the UK because it will affect regional airports, it will affect manufacturing in Blythe, in Yorkshire, in Somerset and in high-value shopping areas such as Edinburgh, Dundee, London, Manchester and Leeds.
“So I really call on the Treasury to think very hard about this decision.”
While Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed accused the Government of “devastating” vibrant high streets.
He said: “I’m afraid the Government is standing by as Britain’s high streets decline.
“Footfall on our high streets was down 10 per cent under the Conservatives even before the coronavirus hit and around one in 10 high street shops was already standing empty.”
But Communities minister Kelly Tolhurst said the Government was “unwavering” in its commitment to high streets and town centres.
She said: “There is no shying away from the fact that this pandemic has clearly had a devastating impact on the great British high street and on the businesses who occupy them.
“I have great sympathy with anyone whose business or job has been endangered by this pandemic and want to reassure the House that this Government is unwavering in its commitment to support our high streets and town centres in the weeks and months ahead.
“I am personally very passionate about our high streets and town centres, they are so much more than places to shop, they are where we meet our families, friends, neighbours and where communities come together to work, to socialise.
“They are a focal point within our local areas. They are of course also home to thousands of people who are just as keen to see their high streets bustling and thriving as the local businesses who occupy them.”