Lancashire MP Jake Berry says the transformation of high streets is a chance for Boris Johnson’s government to convince former Labour voters that it has delivered “real change”. He is adamant that improving town centres and local transport and cracking down on crime will be priorities in the years ahead.
Mr Berry said: UK fights EU as we take back control of our fishing waters.
– He wants “everything” on the table in the upcoming review of business rates, which retailers blame for the decimation of the country’s high streets;
– The Government will “relentlessly” target criminal gangs that prey on retailers;
– The priority for transport is connecting the cities of the North;
– His party should move Conservative Central Office out of London and base it near a “great university” in the North.
Mr Berry, 41, argues that a combination of cash and new powers can help revive communities across the country.
He said the Government is committed to a “fundamental review of business rates” which he insists can lead to real change.
He points to a GBP3.6billion fund to regenerate town centres, saying: “We’re just hugely excited now having returned with a majority government to have the opportunity in 100 places to work up ‘town deals’.”
This is alongside a GBP1billion Future High Streets Fund. Small shops and cafes will see their business rates halved from April when the “retail discount” – now a third off – is increased to 50 per cent.
The British Retail Consortium has warned that violence against shopworkers is a major problem, with 115 people attacked every day while doing their job. There is also concern about the impact of organised crime.
Mr Berry said: “There are 20,000 new police officers coming and keeping communities safe should be one of the top priorities – arguably the top priority – of the Government.”
The minister recognises that good public transport is key to reviving high streets. He said:
“I don’t think we can over-emphasise the importance of having a really good bus network.”
He added: “We need to, particularly in the north of England, make sure that people have the opportunity to get out of their car, that there is a viable, quick and reliable alternative public transport route, whether they are going to their town centre or their nearest city to work.”
He supports the creation of mayors who have the power to take important decisions that can boost the fortunes of high streets.
Mr Berry, who is Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, says the “number one priority” when it comes to transport should be connecting the “great cities of the North”.
He is also a strong supporter of moving the Conservative Party headquarters out of London.
“I’m hugely supportive of that,” he said. “I put an early bid for it to come to Lancashire. What I would like to see actually is it located near one of our great northern universities.”