BORIS Johnson last night pledged £280million to save high streets across the UK.
The huge fund will help revive neglected, “left behind” towns in key election battleground seats.
Money will be spent on cutting business rates even further for small retailers, cinemas, music venues and pubs.
It means corner-shop owners will have £1,400 on average cut off their tax bills.
The Prime Minister also announced £500million to restore railway lines and stations that were axed in the 1960s under the Beeching cuts.
He said he wanted to help places outside London and the South that had not always benefited from Britain’s economic growth.
A raft of key Tory target areas would be covered by the rail fund, such as Fleetwood and Skelmersdale in the North West, Ashington and Blyth in the North East and Willenhall and Darlaston in the Black Country.
It will reverse many rail route closures that came in as a result of a review by engineer Richard Beeching in 1965.
And it will help connect residents to employment and education opportunities — and encourage commuters to move to smaller towns.
Meanwhile community groups wanting to save their pubs and post offices will get help from a new £150million fund.
'OVERLOOKED & LEFT BEHIND'
Money will be spent on helping them prepare bids to buy the businesses out.
The PM also pledged to change the law to prevent those buildings being sold for nine months.
This will allow communities more time to raise funds — up from the current six-month moratorium.
When it comes to local shops, thousands of small retailers will have their business rates slashed further by extending the retail discount from 33 per cent to 50 per cent for 2020/21.
All firms with a rateable value of less than £51,000 would benefit from the scheme, which is designed to halt the decline of the High Street.
The discount will be extended to cinemas and music venues at a cost of £5million.
The PM said the winners of his announcements are the towns and villages that have been “overlooked and left behind”.
Their residents had voted for Brexit because they “felt their voices had been heard for the first time in decades and their lives would improve”.
Quick-fire trade deal
By Nick Gutteridge
BRUSSELS’ new trade boss has told Mr Johnson he can seal a “frictionless” deal in record time — but only by signing up to EU standards.
Irishman Phil Hogan said Brits have the choice between a rapid-fire FTA or another referendum called by Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems.
He said a Tory majority on December 12 would mean Brexit could be sorted swiftly.
Mr Hogan said that would mean trade talks could begin before St Patrick’s Day and be wrapped up more quickly than the usual three years.
He warned the speed and scope of the deal would rely on Britain quickly choosing which EU standards it wants to carry on following.
He added: “We will invest in these communities and help people put the heart back into the places they call home.
“We need to get Brexit done so that we can unleash the potential of all our towns, cities and villages.
“We will be able to save our high streets, keep pubs and post offices open and reconnect places to the rail network half a century after they were cut off.
“But that can only happen if we end the dither, delay and paralysis in Westminster. We need to get Brexit done so the country can move on.
“We need a Conservative majority government which will deliver for communities across Britain — not a Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance that would expend all its energy on two more chaotic referendums.”
Business groups welcomed the proposals but called for the business rates relief to be extended beyond next year in the Tory manifesto, out next week.
They pointed out that UK firms pay some of the highest local property taxes in the world.
Mike Cherry, head of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “It’s good to see help for high streets placed firmly on the agenda at this election.
'END DITHER & DELAY'
"And we hope it will be made clear in time that these pledges will last for the whole Parliament.
“With far too many small businesses still having their futures put in jeopardy by the broken business rates system, this package is a welcome step in getting the urgent help that the high street needs.
“We hope this is the start of a pro-business offer from those seeking to lead the next Government.”
British Chambers of Commerce boss Hannah Essex said the deterioration of high street firms was costing Britain thousands of jobs a year.
She added: “All parties should commit to a fundamental review of business rates and infrastructure.
'Misery index' at four-year low
By Matt Dathan, Deputy Political Editor
THE Prime Minister has been boosted by a better than expected “Misery Index” after figures revealed a drop in both unemployment and inflation.
The index, which is the two figures added together, is a key measure of economic well-being.
It is now at its lowest level in four years and is expected to remain “very low” in the run-up to the December 12 election.
According to official figures released this week, the CPI rate of inflation dropped to 1.5 per cent in September — down from 1.7 per cent.
Unemployment fell at its fastest quarterly rate since 2015, dipping to 3.8 per cent.
It meant the Misery Index score for October dropped to 5.3 per cent — the lowest rate since October 2015.
Scott Corfe from the Social Market Foundation think tank said: “It looks set to remain very low and continue to fall back in the run-up to the election.”
“It’s time we had a system fit for the 21st century economy.”
Meanwhile Labour claimed the Tories had been responsible for “destroying our high streets and towns”.
Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “A decade of vicious cuts to the services that people in our communities rely on has taken 60p in every £1 from council budgets.”
Former Labour MP backs Boris
By Kate Ferguson, Westminster Correspondent
ANOTHER former Labour MP has urged voters not to back Jeremy Corbyn if they want to see Brexit delivered.
Kate Hoey became the fourth to rail against the leftie leader.
She blasted Labour’s “confusing and wrong” Brexit policy.
And she revealed she will be voting for the DUP at her home in Northern Ireland, where Labour does not stand.
Voters elsewhere should vote for the Tories or Brexit Party if they want to see Brexit happen, she said.
Ms Hoey told LBC radio: “The country comes before party politics in this election.
“And for many people that means holding their nose perhaps, but voting for parties they might not have voted for in the past because they think we need to get out and honour that referendum.
“And I’m afraid the Labour Party’s policies on the EU are so confusing and so wrong they have reneged on everything they promised in the last election.”
Her intervention comes after ex-Labour MPs Ian Austin, John Woodcock and Tom Harris also went public on the dangers of a Corbyn government.