Power to Change’s plan to take back the high street

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The Labour Party has recently published its plan to save the high street. But what’s missing, and how can Labour drive a community powered revolution on our high streets?
23 Apr, 2024
Jessica Craig

Jessica Craig

Policy Officer

Earlier this month, the Labour Party outlined its five-point plan to breathe life into Britain’s high streets. 

This plan aims to reverse the decline of Britain’s high streets and town centres and restore them as the beating hearts of our neighbourhoods. Its proposals would go some way in supporting high street community businesses. A Community Right to Buy will be an important tool in fighting high street vacancy. It can give communities the power they need to buy and run the high street spaces that matter most to local people. And reforms to business taxes will help rebalance the burden of the current business rates system. A more even playfield will help community businesses to successfully trade and help their community to flourish. 

But if Labour wants to get high streets off life support, new ideas are needed. Power to Change has long championed a community-powered revolution to transform our high streets. We know that when communities are in the lead, they can revitalise our high streets and town centres. This in turn puts local people in control of what happens where they live and work. Yet this remains the exception, not the rule. Only when community businesses have the right powers, resources, and backing in policy will we see communities across the country take back the high street. 

Fair rates for better business

Labour’s plans to reform business tax are much needed. The current system can be punitively expensive for community businesses operating at low margins. And the availability of discretionary reliefs is unreliable and inconsistent across the country. But it will take time to get reform right. Some of the community businesses on our high streets can’t wait for that day to come.  

That’s why a Labour government should introduce a 75 per cent community business rates relief for Community Interest Companies and Community Benefit Societies at its first fiscal event. These organisations have asset locks, a means of ensuring their assets can never be used for private benefit. A community business rates relief would ensure any savings on business rates are reinvested locally. And it would align with rates reliefs already available for retail, leisure and hospitality, important lifelines for small high street businesses.  

While this type of relief would meet the most pressing need, we are ready to work with the Labour Party to ensure its longer-term plans to reform business taxes recognise the combined social and economic value that community businesses generate. 

A greater say in local regeneration

Local people know what their area needs, but they often struggle to get their voices heard. A Labour government should level the playing field when it comes to local regeneration and town centre governance. Future policies should ensure that communities can work alongside the public sector and private developers to shape and deliver the future of their high streets and town centres.  

We learnt from our Community Improvement Districts pilots that a community-led approach to high street regeneration can bring together residents, councils and businesses to secure the future of our high streets. Through the Heart of Hendon Community Improvement District, Back on the Map has supported local traders and brought vacant shops into community ownership to provide space for the next generation of local businesses. And through new research with the Bennett Institute, we’re identifying ways for more communities to work with public and private partners to shape the spaces in private ownership that they value for social connection. 

More community-owned spaces

We know that asset ownership strengthens the economic outlook of community businesses and puts more power in community hands. Securing a Community Right to Buy would allow communities to own assets that are important to them. Organisations like Friends of Stretford Public Hall prove why this matters. They are using community ownership to give old buildings a new life. They secure spaces for community connection, for local businesses to grow, and to provide affordable housing. 

But a Community Right to Buy can only succeed alongside the right funding and support. A Labour government should continue the Community Ownership Fund and expand the funding available. They could also improve it by providing support alongside the funding. This would ensure all communities who want to exercise their power have the tools they need to do so.  

Labour should also adopt Power to Change’s plan for a British High Street Investment Vehicle. This scheme would provide the capital at pace and scale to buy assets for community ownership on the high street. Like Labour’s Local Power Plan, the investment vehicle would be backed by private and social investment. 

A complete package of measures

This package of measures would form part of a proactive approach to enabling more community ownership. It would go beyond saving ‘at risk’ assets by helping to bring strategically important high street buildings into community ownership too. Combined, these policies would also tackle issues beyond those facing retail on the high street, addressing things like housing and energy access as well. 

Labour is right to focus on making our high streets safer, more vibrant and better places to visit and do business. But to achieve this, Labour will have to back community business. Our plan to take back the high street can deliver just that.