Freeze our rates now to save High Street, say small firms

Daily Mail - - News - By James Bur­ton City Cor­re­spon­dent

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.’

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