Column: Politically speaking with Ed Balls

Ed Balls MP
Ed Balls MP

Here in Morley, nestled close to the intersection of the M1 and M62 motorways, businesses come here because of our brilliant location at the cross-roads of Britain.‎ And what better way to beat the January blues than by an afternoon shopping in Morley town centre?

As the local MP, I’m in regular contact with local firms. And I know how well our brilliant shops and businesses have weathered the storm of the last few years. The market is doing really well. New businesses are opening on Queen Street – including high-street names like Wetherspoons. And you can get meat, veg, flowers, gifts, clothes – pretty much anything you need - within a 3 or 4 minute walk of a free carpark.

Over at the market just before Christmas traders told me they were doing well. “It’s all about your regular customers,” one of the butchers told me. “We’ve got some people who’ve been shopping with us for donkey’s years.”

But for many people and businesses It’s been tough and difficult few years. “It’s been the combination of rent and business rates that’s been hardest Ed,” one local retailer told me. And she was right. Small businesses operating on the high street have had to work really hard to survive. People have had much less money to spend and have been careful about how they spend it.

That is why I’ve said that rather than looking to cut corporation tax again, which tends to have a bigger benefit for larger companies, we should instead cut and then freeze business rates. This will have a much bigger impact for smaller companies – across the country more than 1.5 million business properties will benefit.

But other local businesses also raised with me their concerns about the uneven playing field they face, trying to compete with online retailers who don’t pay business rates – and in some cases – pay much less tax than small local firms. As businesses complete their own tax returns, people want to know that they’re paying their fair share and that others will be doing the same.

High-profile cases of tax avoidance have undermined people’s trust and also hit those who play by the rules and pay their fair share. So I have said I will work with other countries to modernise the rules and act to tackle tax avoidance by closing loopholes, increasing transparency and having tougher independent scrutiny of the system.

Although the economy nationally is now growing again, I’m worried that growth is patchy and hasn’t yet translated into rising living standards and enough well-paid jobs for people in our area. And I’d like to see more investment and support coming to Yorkshire and our area so that people round here see more of the benefits of a growing economy.

Here in Morley we are in a great strategic location in the north of England. We’re close to great road networks and other large cities. But we have to keep fighting to make sure our area gets its fair share. And since the scrapping of our Regional Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, I am worried that the new Local Economic Partnerships haven’t been equipped to meet the big challenges our regional economy faces.

Local companies tell me all the time that with more support they would be able to start more apprenticeships, develop their export market, and invest in infrastructure.

And we need businesses to grow to create jobs and opportunities for the next generation. With one in five young people under the age of 24 not in work or training, I want to see businesses given the right support to create opportunities for young people to get on and do well.

At the moment the gap between London and the South East, and the rest of the country is growing again. I want to see growth that benefits all working people in every part of Britain. We need to see a devolution of power – and resources – to local areas, so we can start to see stronger growth in our area – including rising wages and more opportunities for young people. That really would be good news for local businesses and the local workforce.