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View from the Ridge: It’s time to give our high streets fighting chance

Shutting
up shop:
Bridgend,
where
locals
struggle
with
boarded-up
stores

IN the eyes of politicians — all businesses are equal, but some are more equal than others.

When the banks needed bailing out, the money was ready. When the steel industry suffered, the government indicated it was ready to step in. If you’re a farmer, you benefit from taxpayer-funded subsidies. But what about the poor old high street?

This week Debenhams said it plans to cut 50 stores after a record £492million loss, putting 5,000 jobs at risk. It comes after M&S announced it was shutting stores and House of Fraser fell into administration and had to be rescued.

It’s easy to be unconcerned about the plight of the high street. Shopping habits are changing, the argument goes, no point in being sentimental.

But if you travel to towns across the UK (rather than the cities spoiled with amenities) it becomes clear high streets are still at the heart of communities. In Bridgend, for instance, people were struggling to take pride in their town when the streets were lined with boarded-up shops. In Goole, elderly residents were devastated by the closure of their market.

For them, the high street isn’t just a place to spend money but a place to socialise. One lady in Doncaster told me that since her husband died, she goes to her local pub every day. At first she was embarrassed to be alone, but it was better than staring at four walls. Eighteen pubs are closing every week.

Who says the high street doesn’t provide a community service just as important as the industries we are happy to subsidise? In fact, perhaps it’s not subsidies they need but an even playing field. Online businesses tend to pay far less tax than high street competitors. Amazon, for instance, paid £4.6million in corporation tax last year, while British retailers like M&S and John Lewis paid up to 20 times more.

Next week the chancellor, in his Budget, has an opportunity to shake up the way businesses are taxed in the UK.

Philip Hammond has already floated the idea of an online transaction tax which would target the multinationals. There are complex issues around this, and politicians have been wringing their hands for years about how to make global firms pay fair tax without unfairly penalising some companies.

On Monday we’ll find out whether the chancellor is prepared to go it alone, or if he will continue to wait for a co-ordinated international response that may never happen.

Toxic times: Armed police on the streets of New York after bomb alert at CNN PIC: AP

Poison is infecting our politics too

Troubling news came from the US this week, with a mail bomb campaign targeting Barack Obama, the Clintons, George Soros and CNN.

Let’s hope this is finally a wake-up call that the violent, toxic atmosphere of our politics has got to end.

Violent rhetoric isn’t confined to the United States, sadly.

Last weekend anonymous Conservative sources briefed Sunday newspapers about the prime minister: ‘The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon.’

Language matters and our politicians should know better.

Out: Lord Tebbit PIC: REX

Leavers cause alarm with a hasty exit

Journalists loitering outside the 1922 Committee room — where Theresa May was supposed to be facing down angry backbenchers over her Brexit plan — suddenly woke up when peers including the staunch Brexiteer Lord Tebbit left the room early.

Was this a walkout? Now that would be a story!

Sadly the real reason was far more mundane: a division had been called in the House of Lords and they had to go and vote.

■ I’M EXCITED to be interviewing the chancellor on Sophy Ridge on Sunday this week, ahead of the Budget. Philip Hammond has a tricky task ahead after the prime minister announced the end of austerity in her conference speech. Ministers are howling for more money for their departments and backbenchers crying for a positive vision that they can sell in their constituencies. If that’s not enough to navigate, the chancellor also has to announce his fiscal plans in a time of deep uncertainty when the Brexit negotiations are still ongoing. Tune in to hear what he has to say on Sky News this Sunday at 9am.

Follow @SophyRidgeSky