Freeze our rates now to save High Street, say small firms
BUSINESS rates must be completely overhauled if the High Street is to survive, a lobby group for small firms has warned.
Surging rates are adding to the burden on small shops as they are crushed by foreign internet giants such as Amazon – sparking a crisis which has already destroyed 50,000 retail jobs this year.
Now, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has demanded a reform of the tax to give shopkeepers a better chance of survival.
In a series of demands which echo the Mail’s Save Our High Streets campaign, the FSB is calling for a freeze on rates from April 2019; a £1,000 discount for local shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs; extra relief for small firms in London, which pay over the odds at present due to sky-high property prices, and a faster appeals process to end the farce which sees small businesses forced to pay too much tax, and then left in limbo for months before their bills are corrected.
The group is also demanding a full review of consumers’ access to cash amid a wave of bank branch and ATM closures.
It would like the Post Office network to be properly protected so shopkeepers and shoppers can use the organisation to deposit cash and cheques in areas where all the banks have shut, without fear it will also be downsized.
Mike Cherry, chairman of the FSB, said: ‘It’s clear the pressure is mounting. Spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents are piling on to small retailers, hospitality businesses and others on the High Street. The high cost of town centre parking, poor infrastructure, the blight of potholes and the loss of vital banking services are also ramping up the pressure.
‘We know that small business owners are resilient and are used to adapting to market forces. But we want to see the Government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive, but to thrive.’
The plans last night won support from senior politicians.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a member of the Treasury select committee, said: ‘It is important to make sure that not only do high street businesses receive the support they need to see them through these challenging times for retail, but also that local authorities receive funding to compensate them for any reduction in revenue from business rates.
‘These issues are extremely urgent and I hope the Chancellor addresses them in his autumn Budget.’
Chancellor Philip Hammond has refused to take action on rates, despite coming under intense pressure to do so.
The rates are widely believed to need major reform, but they are predicted to bring in £30.8 billion in this financial year and are relied on by councils to pay their bills.
A Treasury spokesman said: ‘We’ve introduced more than £10 billion of business rate support to help our high streets, so many bricks-and-mortar businesses now pay no rates at all.
‘We’ve appointed an expert panel of industry leaders, with a survey due to launch later this year, to diagnose the issues currently affecting our high streets, and advise on the best long-term approach to help their revival.’