Tag Archives: SMEs

Towards a level playing field between the high street and online

I welcome the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, High Streets and Town Centres in 2030, which calls on the Government to consider the options of an online sales tax and reforms to business rates.

It states:

We believe that high streets and town centres can survive, and thrive, by 2030 if they adapt. Our vision is for activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities and where green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services combine with housing to create a space based on social and community interactions.

I spoke at a local business breakfast in Barnstaple recently. I was asked, “How can we revive the high street with online retailers undercutting our businesses?”  and “How can we make it fairer for high street businesses?” Local business owners wanted to know more about our policy to reform business rates – I told them about our proposal to abolish business rates and replace them with a Commercial Landowner Levy. But that wasn’t enough for them – they wanted to know about online sales tax and how we could level the playing field.

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The party proposes to abolish business rates: “Taxing Land, Not Investment”

The party has just published a comprehensive blueprint for replacing the broken business rates system.

Ground-breaking research was led by Andrew Dixon, founder of the Lib Dem Business and Entrepreneurs Network (LDBEN), in response to mounting concerns about the negative impact of business rates on struggling high street businesses and the wider economy.

The report – “Taxing Land, Not Investment” – calls for the abolition of business rates and its replacement with a tax on land values, the Commercial Landowner Levy (CLL). The levy would remove buildings and machinery from calculations and tax only the land value of commercial sites, boosting investment and cutting taxes for businesses in nine out of ten English local authorities.

Andrew Dixon said,

By only taxing land and not the productive capital above it, this reform would remove a major disincentive to investment, boosting productivity and contributing to a necessary revival in UK industry. While separate action is needed to ensure online retailers pay their fair share of corporation tax, our proposals would offer a lifeline to struggling high streets.

I am delighted to support this initiative which I believe would boost business and enterprise across the UK, and I am grateful to members of the Liberal Democrats Business & Entrepreneurs Network for their valuable contributions to this important research.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Business rates should be abolished and replaced by a Commercial Landowner Levy based on the value of commercial land only
  • The levy should be paid by owners rather than tenants
  • Non-residential stamp duty should be scrapped to improve the efficiency of the commercial property market
  • Commercial land should be taxed regardless of whether the buildings above it are occupied; the tax should also apply to unused and derelict commercial land

The report also finds that:

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Vince Cable speech: break-up the big tech monopolies

In a speech in London this morning entitled ‘Taming the Tech Titans’, Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable has called for stronger international and domestic regulation of big tech companies. You can watch the speech here.

He has criticised the effective monopolies enjoyed by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, comparing their market dominance to that of big oil companies in the past, and suggests ways they can be broken up.

The speech also focussed on how start-ups and innovative small and medium-sized tech firms can thrive in a more competitive market.

The text released in advance of the speech has Vince arguing that

Data is the new oil. Data is the raw material which drives these firms and it is control of data which gives them an advantage over competitors. These companies have acquired their pivotal position by providing a service or platform through which data can be extracted, collected and used.

Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85% of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89% of internet search, 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75% of E-book sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99% of mobile operating systems. “

National government and, even more so, supranational bodies like the EU can and should look to break up enterprises where size is detrimental to the economic wellbeing of the country, its citizens and its capacity for innovation.

There is a case for splitting Amazon into three separate businesses – one offering cloud computing, one acting as a general retailer and one offering a third-party marketplace. Other examples would be Facebook being forced to divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp as a condition for operating in the EU, creating two new social media networks. Divesting Google of YouTube would be another.

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Where are the Lib Dem business networks?

 

After many years on the cusp of joining the party, I finally made the decision to join the Lib Dems immediately after that fateful day in May. My motivations, I am sure, were much the same as those of many other waverers – despite having a stubborn, independent streak that made me loath to join a party (any party), and hesitation over the policies of the Coalition, I could no longer stand by and expect others to shoulder the burden of protecting liberal values and defending individual rights.

I can safely say that I haven’t regretted my decision for a moment: the warm welcome from Greenwich Borough Lib Dems, and the party as a whole, has reaffirmed my belief that liberalism has a bright future in English politics.

As a small business manager, one aspect of the Lib Dems that I have always found most attractive is its independence from vested interests. Not being dominated by – or acting as a mouthpiece for – the sectional interests of organised labour or powerful corporations is, for me, what allows our party to genuinely stand for individual rights and wellbeing. It is this independence which also makes the Lib Dems the natural home of the entrepreneur, the shopkeeper and the SME business manager – the small and the brave – as the social freedoms which we strive for as a party are those which independent businesses require in order to thrive.

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