CALLS are being made for an online sales tax to help level the playing field for high street retailers – but local shops are also being urged to up their game.

The findings by a committee of MPs chime with many of the views put forward when the Daily Echo recently devoted two weeks of coverage to the challenges facing the high street.

A report by the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee found bricks and mortar stores were facing business rates of anything from 1.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent of their turnover – while Amazon was around 0.7 per cent.

The MPs said the government “further and faster” to “level the playing field” by considering a sales tax, an increase in VAT, an online sales tax, and “green taxes” on deliveries and packaging. But they said high street retailers need to adapt and do more to offer what online cannot, focusing more on personal interactions and convenience.

Paul Kinvig, chief operating officer with Bournemouth Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) said: “The business rates system is broken. It’s not taking into account the growth of online retailing.

“The idea of an online sales tax for those businesses, I think, is a good one.

“The one caveat I’d have to put on that is that I think it has to be implemented very carefully, so that it doesn’t become too punitive for those start-up online businesses that are entrepreneurial.”

He agreed that retailers needed to adapt and focus on customer experience. “The challenge is to anticipate what the customer wants in the 21st century and how they can give them that experience,” he added.

At a recent breakfast event organised by the Daily Echo, Beales chief executive Tony Brown revealed that the company spent £448,000 a year on business rates for its Bournemouth store.

Town centre councillor David Smith said at the same event that the government should reform business taxation “I don’t believe the amount of business rates people have to pay is sensible. If we want to sell things to people, there has to be a level playing field,” he said.

Today’s report from MPs also calls on council’s to “get to grips with the fact that their town centres need to change” and create areas that are the “intersection of human life and activity”.

With online sales currently at 20 per cent and set to grow, the future for high streets and town centres is “increasingly bleak” with some formerly thriving shopping areas likely to become ghost towns unless the report’s recommendations are implemented, the MPs say.

Chairman Clive Betts said: “It is likely that the heyday of the high street primarily as a retail hub is at an end. However, this need not be its death knell.”