A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Thomas:Stevenson's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Thomas:Stevenson is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Highlighting best practice
Partner Paul Stevenson
Infinity Bridge,
Commercial property consultancy Thomas:Stevenson deals
with shops, offices, industrial property and land. With more
than 40 years’ combined experience in the property sector,
the firm focuses on the Teesside, North Yorkshire and broader
northeast area to deliver commercial property solutions to private
individuals, local businesses and large corporates alike. Partner
Paul Stevenson tells
The Parliamentary Review
that the consultancy
strives to provide an accessible, responsive and personal service,
and talks at greater length about the fate of the high street.
We are a multidisciplinary general practice, focusing on rent reviews, lease
renewals, professional work, compulsory purchase and property management.
Originally established in 2004, we principally operate in the northeast, and a
significant proportion of our work is in the Teesside region. Our focus is entirely
commercial and, typically, we act on behalf of established business from our local
area. We do act on behalf of clients from London and the southeast and we would
like to expand in the coming years.
Despite the success we have experienced, there are a number of issues, both local
and national, that we feel must be addressed if businesses in our industry and our
region are to be fully supported.
The demise of the high street
The demise of the high street has been a significant negative for our society as
well as our industry. The signs were apparent for a long time and in my mind,
»Partner: Paul Stevenson
»Established in 2004
»Based in Stockton
»Services: Commercial property
»No. of employees: 8
the solution is clear: collecting rates
from tenants and empty rates from
landlords is in need of reform. High
street shops are much more than
merely retail premises. In order to
support their existence, and help
close the gap between the high street
and the online marketplace, I would
advocate that high street businesses,
all the way up to department stores,
should be relieved of rates. This would
help them to become competitive
again and reinvigorate our struggling
town centres.
The other part of this approach is to
tackle online vendors. With online
retailers having low overheads and not
paying business rates, a solution would
be an online tax. The most obvious
way of achieving this is through
varying the VAT rate. If customers
purchasing online had to pay a higher
rate of VAT, high street retail would
immediately become more competitive.
Retailers who have both an online and
high street presence could instigate
a click-and-collect approach, with
purchasers avoiding a higher rate of
VAT by collecting the product from a
high street store. This would help the
high street to maintain its presence
and protect the social and community
aspect of its existence.
The failure to address this disparity has
been frustrating and national reform
is required to ensure the high street
is protected. While local councils are
doing what they can to mitigate these
challenges, such as hosting events or
encouraging evening trade, a more
encompassing solution is needed.
Investing in infrastructure
Beyond this more national issue, I
believe there must be a change of
government approach locally. Key to
this will be investing in infrastructure as
the current level of public infrastructure
in the northeast is embarrassing. Our
road networks are underdeveloped,
with many major routes remaining
single carriageways, and our rail
network is hopeless. With the exception
of the East Coast Main Line, it is
impossible to travel with any confidence
or within an acceptable journey time.
For instance, through the East Coast
Main Line, I can reach London in two
and a half hours, yet it takes over an
hour to get to Newcastle, which is only
around 40 miles away. If public transport
is not invested in, the economic
growth of an area will always be stifled.
Without these essential transport links,
businesses can become cut-off and the
region as a whole suffers.
British Steel, Redcar
The demise of
the high street
has been a
negative for
society as well
as our industry.
Collecting rates
from tenants
and empty rates
from landlords
is in need of
Highlighting best practice
Highlighting best practice
Supporting the regions
Alongside this, our region has lost a
number of major employers during my
lifetime, including ICI, Davy and British
Steel. While change is inevitable, this loss
has not been at all balanced. When I was
young, the difference between Tyneside
and Teesside was present but not acute
and the same could be said for the
difference between Teesside and Leeds.
Since that time, however, our subregion
has been left behind. A symptom of
this is Teesside Airport. While this
airport used to have a daily service to
Heathrow, it has been in demise to the
extent that closure looked likely with
the land destined for housing. Tees
Valley Combined Authority has now
intervened and there is hope, but this
venture needs support from central
government. As public infrastructure
has become increasingly inadequate,
and failing industry has not been
replaced, the region has been cut
adrift. It is only through investment
in infrastructure and connectivity that
local economies can expand. This is
true on both the local and national
level: if public transport was improved
we could conduct a far higher volume
of work in the surrounding cities.
The support of external
When I started in my profession in
the late 1980s, English Estates was
a government body which enabled
speculative commercial development.
If developers were looking to build
or develop a space, a new industrial
development for instance, English
Estates would often subsidise these
projects, helping to mitigate the risks
of the developers. After English Estates
was replaced with the Homes and
Communities Agency, this proactive
agenda disappeared. Such funding is
no longer available and regeneration
and development has suffered as a
result. Without these support systems,
businesses are less likely to be attracted
to less developed areas and the vicious
circle continues.
I also believe that the Royal Institute
of Chartered Surveyors, our governing
body, needs to implement tougher
regulation. Currently, many of those
hired to act as independent experts
pay scant regard to the statement of
truth in a submission and instead act
as advocates. Regulation needs to
be tightened to address this and to
ensure that surveyors and independent
experts see their duty to the court as
paramount. This is important as it can
have significant effects on overheads for
businesses, which can lead to joblosses.
I think there is a possibility that the
regions could benefit from a change
of heart in government policy. Brexit
clearly demonstrated the unhappiness
felt in these struggling regions. I hope
there is a change of policy and a
movement towards investment outside
the southeast, re-energising the
left-behind parts of the country and
supporting them to thrive.
It is only
investment in
that local
can expand
The city games held on
Stockton high street –
just one example of the
efforts taken to give a
boost to the high street

This article was sponsored by Thomas:Stevenson. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development