Southend councillor suggests delivery levy be imposed on online retailers to save the High Street

Southend Council’s deputy leader believes online retailers should be paying a delivery tax to help save the High Street from the impact of the coronavirus.

Councillor Ron Woodley has written to the Local Government Association – a body which represents councils across the country – to outline his ideas for helping businesses recover.

Among these is the suggestion that online stores such as Amazon, Boohoo and Asos should be forced to pay a 20 per cent delivery tax, just as town centre shops must pay businesses rates.

He described it as taking 20 per cent of the profits from the companies and handing it to the Government to increase revenue and allow them to reduce business rates, if needed.

Mr Woodley said: “I do believe that a 20 per cent delivery tax on out of town deliveries from places like Amazon needs to be looked at as it will level up the playing field between local shops and those delivering from these big warehouses.

“This could mean the cost going to the buyer but if the companies start making themselves more expensive then people will be more encouraged to shop locally anyway.

“We need to do as much as we can to encourage people back into our town centre and restaurants.”

Despite Cllr Woodley’s enthusiasm for the idea, it is something that would need to be implemented by the Government.

Westminster has been under pressure to find ways to rescue stores following the pandemic, including a possible cut to VAT.

Conservative leader, Cllr Tony Cox said: “I have always been of the view that business rates combined with rents is what is making high streets ‘unattractable’ (sic) in the UK.

“Whilst the Chancellor has gone some way in the last budget to reduce business rates the key is to assist high streets, the key is to bring down business rates not push them up in other areas which could cause more unemployment.”

However, Cllr Cox also cautioned that any kind of online business tax can still put high street businesses at risk.

He added: “The main problem with the 20 per cent online business tax is that some high street businesses who have an online offering will be punished twice especially if the online offering is bigger than their high street presence.”

Suzanne Gloyne, manager of Southend BID, said the organisation would welcome any changes that supported town centre businesses.

She said: “Online retail can never replace the experience of visiting shops and interacting with people on the local high street. High streets have been, and will remain, a hub for the community so any activity that will boost businesses for the long term would be welcomed.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter