Labour is looking at plans for an “Amazon tax” on digital retailers to level the playing field for struggling high street shops, the shadow business secretary has said.
Rebecca Long-Bailey suggested that the party could throw its weight behind tax changes for online companies as part of its efforts to ease pressure on bricks-and-mortar shops.
Some 88,000 retail jobs were lost in the first nine months of last year, while household names such as Maplin, Poundworld and Toys R Us have gone bust, and firms including Mothercare and New Look have carried out store closures.
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Labour set out a five-point plan to save high streets during its annual party conference in September, but a cross-departmental working group led by shadow small business minister Bill Esterson its honing their plans further.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated he would consider tax changes for online giants to ensure the high street remains resilient to challenges.
Several retail bosses have called for change, particularly around business rates, which they say is not fit for purpose in the face of online competition.
In an interview with The Independent, Ms Long-Bailey said: “We are looking at all the options that are available at the moment and it’s about getting something that’s fair, because at the moment we don’t have a fair taxation landscape between online and physical retailers. But it’s a very difficult circle to square.”
Online giants such as Amazon are faced with lower tax bills than traditional retailers as they trade from warehouses rather than physical stores, despite significantly higher sales.
“You get some high street retailers that also have an online presence, so how do you deal with that to make sure that was fair,” Ms Long-Bailey said.
“It’s not a case of black and white, ‘right, well, let’s tax online and give tax reliefs to high street retailers’, because I don’t think that’s fair either and that’s why there’s been such a long discussion in parliament about the best way forward for this.”
Pressed to say more on tax changes for digital retailers, she said Labour was “looking at it” alongside several options.
Fighting for the high street is a personal priority for the Salford and Eccles MP, who is regarded by some as one of the party’s rising stars and has been touted as a possible successor to Jeremy Corbyn.
She announced a series of measures to party faithful last year, including a review on business rates, free public wifi, free bus travel for young people and a ban on allowing ATMs to charge customers.
Another proposal would force councils to set up an empty property register so they can engage with landlords, to get the buildings back into use – although Ms Long-Bailey admitted it was not a “silver bullet”.
She said: “I think to lose the high street would be very, very damaging for Britain and I think people are very angry about what they are seeing.
“It’s not just about encouraging people to shop local and I would encourage that, but I think we need to look at the other things we can do to revitalise the high street as well and that will require government direction and it will require investment.”
In a broad interview, Ms Long-Bailey also spoke out over the online trolling she has received amid an ongoing row over abuse levelled at MPs.
She said: “I also think there also needs to be recognition of some of the negatives of being an MP – you know, treatment on Twitter.
“There’s a larger proportion of women that are negatively affected by horrible comments on Twitter than there are men.
“The number of times when I do a press interview and I’m on the telly – I shouldn’t look at the Twitter but sometimes I do and you look at the tweets afterwards – there will be a whole barrage of comments about the way I look from my eyebrows to my teeth to my eyes. You name it.
“But if I was a bloke, they wouldn’t receive the same level of criticism. It’s really weird. I can’t understand it myself.”
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