“We’re losing hundreds of thousands of retail jobs.
“We’ve lost banks, libraries, giants of the high street, and local businesses face an uphill struggle competing against online multinationals who pay little tax in the UK.
“If levelling-up means anything, it must mean investing in high streets and towns like ours.
“I spoke about the need to improve our high streets and support local businesses in areas like Barnsley in the High Streets debate in Westminster Hall on the 19th of October:
“I send my condolences, and those of the people whom I represent in Barnsley, to the family, friends and constituents of Sir David Amess. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) on securing this important debate.
“Our high streets have had a difficult 18 months. As footfall recovers, we need to look more closely at how the impact has been distributed across the country. In Exeter, Aldershot and Reading, for example, at least two-thirds of neighbourhoods are likely to have been able to save through the pandemic. That is true for fewer than 25% of neighbourhoods in Hull, Blackpool and Barnsley, however. That will have a real impact on consumers’ ability to spend money in their local economy. In reality, the pandemic has hit poorer areas harder, and we need to consider how we address that.
“The demise of our high streets did not begin with covid, but with a decade of austerity. Over the last 10 years, 10,000 shops, 6,000 pubs, 7,500 banks and more than 1,100 libraries have closed.
“That is felt particularly acutely in semi-rural areas such as the one I represent in Barnsley East.
“I represent a collection of towns and villages around the centre of Barnsley that do not benefit from a strong local transport network, so the closure of the local bank or library has a huge impact on the local community. We need to ensure that we reverse those figures and do not allow the continued demise of the high street.
“In the last year alone 180,000 retail jobs have been lost, and 200,000 more are at risk this year.
“We need to look at bringing empty commercial properties back into use for new and existing businesses.
“We need to level the playing field between high-street and online businesses, because the tax system, which was mentioned earlier, is simply not equal.
“We need to promote entrepreneurship and innovation on our high streets so that they reflect the needs of our local communities.
“The challenge faced by our high streets is a good example of why the concept of levelling up is needed. The problem is that we are yet to see the reality.
“Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council has seen some of the worst cuts in the country.
“The Government talk a good talk about the idea of levelling up poorer communities, but in reality, that is simply not happening.
“Earlier this year, the Chancellor’s constituency of Richmond was prioritised for funding over Barnsley, and even though Barnsley is more deserving according to every categorisation of need, it did not get funding.
“We need to make a change to ensure that levelling up is not a slogan, and that we improve our high streets.”