This week's MP's column comes from Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West 

SUPPORTING our local businesses also means supporting the workers, their families and the people in our communities. 

Local businesses are not just the backbone of our economy, they are also often the depiction and representation of many towns and cities across our country. In Bradford, we are incredibly fortunate to have a rich profusion of local businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, that not only caters for the locals in Bradford but brings in so many others from afar.

However, during this pandemic, businesses struggled and those in Bradford West struggled extensively due to the longer period of local lockdowns. 

Their compassion even in the toughest of days did not wither away, as I witnessed first-hand whilst businesses were closing their doors, they were opening their hearts, by supporting those most in need and especially our NHS. I would like to put on record my gratitude for their efforts during those times.

But gratitude is not enough. 

What those businesses need is the Government to support them during these times of uncertainty. 

The pandemic and the gradual effects of Brexit are now showing the pressures that local businesses are facing everyday. 

We had heard about the queues of lorries that we expected at Dover following Brexit, but what this Government’s poor planning did not predict was the empty lorries without drivers that would impact a food and fuel shortage in this country.

There is a prolonged need to support local businesses to help rebuild our economy. 

One way we can do this is by freezing business rates.

Labour plans to freeze business rates until the next revaluation, which will benefit sectors like retail and hospitality who are hit the most by this tax. 

Those businesses in hospitality that are struggling to find workers and have only recently had to endure the increase in VAT to 12.5 per cent whilst barely being able to come afloat - need this support.

Labour also plans to cut business rates and increase the threshold for small business rates relief (from the current threshold of £15,000 to £25,000), to give SMEs (small or medium-sized enterprises) a discount on their business rates bill for 2022/23.

As I mentioned above, supporting local businesses is not just about the business itself but the entire community. 

In the same way, cutting business rates for SME’s will not only support the local economy but also help counteract deprivation, poverty, and regional inequality. A report from WPI Strategy in 2020 found constituencies like mine in Bradford West ranked third highest in need of levelling up, as a direct result of the regional inequality impacting on business rates. 

The report found it was even justified to refer to this regional inequality as ‘Northern Shops Tax’. 

As in these areas hard-working businesses, from SMEs to multinationals, were more likely to struggle with ‘setting up shop’ because of business rates.

More worryingly, analysis by Labour using the latest ONS Business Impacts Survey reveals that 332,000 businesses are at-risk of closure in the next three months, accounting for 828,000 jobs. 

In my constituency of Bradford West, 232 are at risk which will have a devastating impact on so many families who are already struggling.

The world is changing, and our high streets and local businesses need support based on the modern challenges. 

An age-old tax system that excludes digital businesses and burdens those SMEs on the high street is threatening the prosperity of our economy. 

Labour is a pro-worker, pro-business party and the Conservative party, having already broken key election promises by raising the income tax on workers, is now failing to act to cut business taxes to support local businesses.