Online shopping tax won't help save high street, Next boss Lord Wolfson tells LBC

25 February 2021, 10:02 | Updated: 25 February 2021, 10:05

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The Government cannot tax shoppers back onto the high street, the boss of high street fashion retailer Next has told LBC.

Next chief executive Lord Wolfson said forcing customers to pay an online tax is not going to be enough to revive shops hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and years of decline.

He said: "I think we've got to accept the reality - people are not going to be taxed back onto the high street.

"If the aim of an online tax is to somehow get high streets back up and running, it isn't going to work.

Read more: Tourist hotspot high streets face being 'hollowed out' without extra support

"A two per cent tax isn't going to make a difference in shopping online and shopping in the high street because the reason the internet is winning is because of the vast increase in choice a customer gets when they go online."

"Attacks aren't going to work," he added.

High street firms have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic
High street firms have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: PA Images

Many high street businesses have been left vulnerable to closure by the Covid-19 pandemic, with owners forced to pay rent despite remaining shut for large parts of the year.

It comes as the Government called on landlords to have "productive" talks with businesses over rent arrangements and beyond to protect their high street ventures.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said "urgent" dialogue or mediation must be taking place between the two parties.

It is not in the interests of landlords to lose viable businesses as the country prepares to lift lockdown restrictions, MPs heard.

Lord Wolfson has said a tax on shopping online would not work
Lord Wolfson has said a tax on shopping online would not work. Picture: PA Images

Lord Wolfson praised the Government's handling of economic issues during the pandemic, adding that "a lot of businesses wouldn't be in business were it not for Government support".

Asked if corporation tax should be hiked to assist ailing high street shops, he said: "I think it's not unreasonable for Government to say that your corporation tax should help pay for some of that.

"What I would hope is that they use some of that corporation tax rise, if it comes, to address the real unfairness with business rates at the moment.

"Business rates on shops are so far out of kilter with what is affordable they are actually accelerating the decline the high street."