The Shadow Business Secretary has called for independent retailers to help him protect the high street.

Speaking exclusively to Retail Express, Chuka Umunna said there is “no doubt” business rates need reforming and that he understands the challenges independent retailers face every day.

The MP for Streatham is spearheading Small Business Saturday, set to launch in the UK on December 7. With Labour currently ahead in the polls and the next general election due in  2015, this is a man you need to know.

Chuka Eumunna, Shadow Business Secretary
Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary

In our meeting, he identified business rates as the number one issue facing retailers on the high street, alongside access to finance, parking and rents, and asked groups including the NFRN for input in Labour’s policy review.

“You have an extraordinary situation where people’s rates are often in excess of their rent and that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

His words come after Retail Express reported earlier this year (April 23) calls from Booker CEO Charles Wilson and Costcutter CEO Darcy Willson-Rymer for radical reform of the business rates system.

Umunna also outlined Labour’s plans to immediately create a British Investment Bank based on the German government-owned KfW model, which could “double overnight” the money being made available to small businesses.

It would operate through a network of regional banks like the Sparkasse Bank in Germany to ensure cash gets to businesses.

He said: “The problem with so many of this Government’s finance schemes – granted they are all well-intentioned, like Project Merlin, Credit Easing, Funding for Lending – they all rely on the existing high street banks who proved to be such a problem for small businesses. The issue is urgency – we need to get on and do it. We are doing a lot of technical work on it right now.”

Although sympathetic to charity shops and some of the work done by supermarket chains, he says there is a danger of the UK’s town centres turning into ‘monostreets’. To prevent this he wants local councillors to be given the power to take the diversity of high streets into account when considering applications from big chains.

Umunna, whose Streatham constituency is home to the longest high street in Europe, told Retail Express: “A lot of people will come into your readers’ shops in spite of the fact they may be able to go and get the same things a little bit cheaper somewhere else because your readers’ shops are those important institutions that bind us together. And you can’t actually put a price on that.”

He did not go into detail about tobacco and alcohol legislation because these are the domain of his colleagues in the Shadow Health Department, but he promised there would be a strong dialogue between the departments over any planned legislation.

December 7 this year is set to mark the UK’s first Small Business Saturday – a scheme led by Umunna but with cross-party support.