Tory leadership hopeful Matt Hancock has pledged to scrap business rates for small retailers and increase a tax on internet companies to “level the playing field” for high streets.
The Health Secretary said the £1.5 billion-a-year pledge would exempt hundreds of thousands of retailers from business rates, which have been blamed for contributing to a wave of shop closures across the country.
The minister is hoping to succeed Theresa May, whose official resignation as Prime Minister on Friday will formally trigger the start of the race for Number 10.
Mr Hancock’s pledge to slash rates is the latest bid to mark out his pro-business credentials – and follows an attack on leadership rival Boris Johnson over the “f*** business” remark attributed to him last year.
Mr Hancock, a former digital minister, said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that he wanted to “save the high street” by taxing web giants.
“I would end business rates for small businesses on high streets altogether, and I would pay for it by an increase in the new digital services tax,” he said.
Business leaders have been calling for business rates reform, warning they disproportionately burden traditional bricks and mortar companies.
Recently-released figures showed there had been more than 80,000 appeals launched by business properties in England – from shops and restaurants to public sector buildings – since the rates were reviewed in April 2017.
The review led to crippling rises in the tax across the UK, with retailers and pubs among those hardest hit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a digital services tax in last year’s Budget, although the Daily Telegraph said Mr Hancock pledged to set higher rates than planned.
Critics of the tax say it could hamper innovation, although Mr Hancock said “there are ways to do this”.
“I have already made reforms – for instance take the tax paid on gambling,” he told the paper.
Last month, Mr Hancock, who was once a minister in the Department for Business, blasted Mr Johnson over the former foreign secretary’s business credentials.
Mr Johnson was reported to have said “f*** business” following concerns from some in industry that a hard Brexit would damage the economy.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Hancock said: “To the people who say ‘f*** business’, I say ‘f***, f*** business’.”
The minister explained his choice of words to the Telegraph, saying it was “the language of somebody who wants to get things moving”.
“I feel very strongly about what we need to do about the future of this country,” he said. “And if I sometimes use modern language to express my sense of frustration and to explain how I want to make a difference, then so be it.”