BUILD TRUST: Shadow chancellor says Labour has to do more
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves after pouring a pint at the Golden Smog pub, Image: Ian Cooper/Teesside Live.
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves says Labour has got more to do to build trust on Teesside.
The frontbencher visited Stockton on Thursday in a visit focussing on scrapping business rates.
Her party retains control of just one council in the Tees Valley now – with the number of Labour MPs dropping from three to two after Conservative Jill Mortimer was elected in the Hartlepool by-election in May.
Asked what Labour needed to do to win again on Teesside, Ms Reeves believed the party needed to focus on what mattered to people in their “everyday lives”.
“Their families, their work and the places that they live,” she said.
“We’ve got a Labour council and Labour leader in Stockton doing really exciting things – ahead of many parts of the country, and facing up to the very real problems on our high streets (by) getting businesses to stay and grow.
“We have got some great success stories about what Labour is doing in power locally.
“But we know after the general election, and elections earlier this year, we’ve got more to do to build trust in Teesside and other parts of the country.”
Stockton Council is steered by Labour through a minority administration.
Barring a snap general election, the next round of major polls Teesside will see will be at council level in 2023.
The time-honoured political custom of pulling a pint was performed by Ms Reeves in The Golden Smog, in Hambletonian Yard.
She was also flanked by Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham and Stockton Council leader Cllr Bob Cook during a visit to Drake The Bookshop and a wander around the High Street.
Labour says it will scrap business rates if it came to power and replace it with a form of business property tax to make bigger businesses operating online pay more.
Ms Reeves told the Local Democracy Reporting Service councils would get the money they needed to run local services.
The Shadow Chancellor added: “Scrapping business rates and replacing it with a fair form of business property taxation will not leave any council, including in Stockton and across Teesside, out of pocket.
“We’ve got a situation today where the system of business rates is not fit for the 21st century.
“I’m here in Stockton talking to local businesses like the bookseller here.
“The bookseller will be paying business rates and, if they make enough money, they’ll be paying corporation tax.
“Yet their main competitor pays less in business rates because their warehouse attracts lower rates than a high street shop, yet the competitor isn’t even registered in the UK for corporation tax purposes.
“It’s not a level playing field and that’s got to be fixed.”
Teesside will be home to one of the country’s first freeports this month with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen pledging it will bring 18,000 jobs to the region in the next five years.
Freeports are designed to have less stringent customs procedures where businesses also benefit from a range of tax incentives.
Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) officials say it will drive billions into the region’s economy by encouraging long-term inward investment in the region and enhancing trade without sacrificing environmental protections, or workers’ rights.
But a recent report by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) raised doubts about the economic benefits freeports could bring.
The report stated: “Given historical and international evidence, we have assumed that the main effect of the Freeports will be to alter the location rather than the volume of economic activity.”
Ms Reeves was concerned by the OBR analysis of Freeports – fearing there was a “large probability” they would be used for tax avoidance.
She said: “I have some real concerns about Freeports.
“We need to regenerate and reinvigorate areas like Teesside.
“Labour’s climate investment pledges, to invest in some of those new industries of the future like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, are really important.
“But the government has continually put back their investments in those schemes.
“That’s what I would be prioritising if I was Chancellor – the re-industrialisation of places like Teesside.
“Good quality jobs paying a decent wage (and) high skilled jobs – those are the sort of things we need in Teesside and elsewhere.”
In the past, Mr Houchen has said he believes the OBR would be “proven wrong” on Freeports due to the sheer amount of brownfield land available on Teesside.
Government officials say the Freeports bidding process saw applicants have to explain how their tax site locations minimised displacement.
They also said a review of business rates had been carried out – and a tax on commercial property was “an important part of a balanced business tax system”.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “Freeports like Teesside will be national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, levelling up communities across the UK by attracting new businesses, creating thousands of jobs and boosting our economic recovery from the pandemic.
“The Budget reduced the rates burden on business by over £7bn across the next five years, including by freezing the business rates multiplier for a further year and providing almost £1.7bn in further business rates relief in 2022/23.”
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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