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New inquiry launched: Supporting our high streets after Covid-19

15 July 2020

This new inquiry will investigate how businesses and amenities in local areas can be supported through the economic challenges of the pandemic, and how government at all levels can provide the necessary support to help them thrive in the long term.

High street facing challenges

In a report published last year, the Committee highlighted the challenges facing high streets and town centres due to strong competition from online competitors, an unfair taxation regime and fragmented ownership of commercial properties.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a further burden on shops and businesses, with non-essential businesses having to close, and others having to adapt to continue operating during lockdown.

Consumer demand has plummeted, with the Centre for Cities calculating that footfall on high streets is less than a quarter of pre-lockdown levels, and shifted further to online retailers able to deliver directly.
As the country emerges from lockdown, businesses face the challenge of providing services in a manner that will ensure the health of customers and staff is not endangered, while at the same time being able to operate at a profit or simply break even.

Purpose of the inquiry

The inquiry will examine the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak on the future of the high street. It will ask how government, at all levels, can mitigate the economic and social impact and develop policies to ensure high streets remain the centre of local communities.

The Committee will look at the impact of existing measures to support the high street, including the business rate holiday, as well as the broader role of taxation in enabling high street businesses to remain viable.

Chair's comments

Launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Clive Betts MP said:
“Last year, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published a report that highlighted the dire situation for many high streets and town centres. High rents, an unfair business rates system, and competition from on-line retailers who do not have to bear similar costs placed an intolerable burden on more and more high street businesses. No one was immune from this burden and it hit nationally known chains as hard as independent boutiques.
“The economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic present an enormous challenge and we must make sure it is not the knockout blow for our high streets. We do not know what the long term consequences of Covid-19 will be and how drastically our day-to-day lives will be changed. But was is clear is that having local amenities providing a range of services will be as important now as it has ever been.
“We have launched this inquiry to understand what short term measures will be needed to ensure that high streets survive, and understand what long-term strategies will enable them to thrive. Shops and public services will not be able to get through this without our help, and we must assess what the Government can do to ensure they have a future.”

Terms of reference 

The Committee invites evidence on the following issues:
• The likely long-term consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak on the future of the high street;
• How councils, central government, and other stakeholders are and can help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the high street and town centres;
• Assess the Government's previous and current measures to bolster the high street; including the effect of the business rate holiday during the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact of its ending;
• The progress made on implementing the recommendations of the previous committee's report of February 2019.

Submit written evidence: 

Contribute views and ideas to the inquiry by submitting written evidence here.

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