people walking on street during daytime
Photo by Kai Bossom on Unsplash

I was absolutely delighted that Hazel Grove Constituency Labour Party unanimously passed the Co-operative Party’s model motion in support of an Online Sales Tax last week.

It is never an easy task to persuade people to support a new tax, but it’s clear that Labour members in our patch of Greater Manchester recognise that traditional bricks and mortar businesses face unfair competition from Internet-only businesses, and something needs to be done to level the playing field.

In Stockport, we’ve seen the closure of Marks and Spencer’s and Debenham’s in the town centre, and independent retailers have struggled during the pandemic. Despite this, Labour have invested in the town centre and district centres across the borough to encourage the vibrant local high streets we all want to have on our doorstep. Bur local independents are still struggling to make a profit.

The aim of an Online Sales Tax (OST) isn’t to penalise Internet only businesses. A very modest tax on big businesses selling over the Internet would bring in revenue which can be used to reduce the overall burden of business rates on those companies that need a high street presence – this is the thrust of the Co-op Party’s motion. Reducing businesses rates would throw a much-needed lifeline to those businesses struggling post-pandemic and facing their own cost of living crisis as they try and deal with rapidly increasing inflation and ever-increasing bills.

Many enjoy – and perhaps now rely on – Internet shopping, but I think everyone knows that this convenience often comes with hidden costs: precarious employment standards, legal but often elaborate tax avoidance schemes which minimise the amount of corporation tax paid in the UK, and competition which traditional businesses struggle to compete with. A modest tax, say 1%, on Internet sales of goods made by bigger businesses would be almost unnoticeable to the consumer and Internet-sales would still remain cheap, but it would generate significant revenue which can then be used to make things a bit fairer to those companies which rely on footfall.

I’m pleased to see that Government has finally woken up to the need to address the unfair playing field between Internet-based retailers and traditional retailers, and an extensive and very detailed consultation on the matter has just closed. We now need Government to consider the responses to the consultation and act swiftly. Jobs in much-loved businesses are on the line.