Written by: Keith Tully
Published: 13th August 2019
A group of more than 50 major retailers operating across the country have signed a joint letter calling on the chancellor Sajid Javid to “fix the broken business rates system”.
The letter has been put together by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and signed by bosses from a wide range of retailers, including River Island, Marks & Spencer, Greggs, Fenwick, Debenhams and WHSmith.
Several of the signatories aimed sharp criticisms at the business rates system as it currently works and expressed fears for the future of the British high street unless swift action is taken to support retail companies.
“Business rates are an outdated Victorian taxation system that have little relevance to our modern multi-channel retail economy,” said Richard Walker, joint managing director at Iceland Foods.
“Fundamental reform of the system is the only way we will stem the decline of high street communities up and down the country.”
A key claim being emphasised by the BRC and its members is that retailers are said to account for 25 per cent of all business rates and 10 per cent of all business taxes, despite only making up 5 per cent of the overall economy.
Four specific requests have been made by the BRC and the signatories of its letter to the chancellor, including calls for a freeze to the business rates multiplier and a fix to the transitional relief regime, which is said to be forcing some retailers to pay more than should in business rates.
The consortium and its backers also want to see the introduction of an ‘improvement relief’ for ratepayers, and they insist that the Valuation Office Agency, which administers business rates paperwork and processes, needs to be more fully resourced so it can properly be considered fit for purpose.
The letter sent to the newly-installed chancellor, Mr Javid, says that the recommendations put forward “could be undertaken quickly, would reduce regional disparities, remove barriers to the proper working of market forces, incentivise economic investment, and cut away at least some of the bureaucracy of the current system”.
“The fact that over 50 retail CEOs have come together on this should send a powerful message to government,” said Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive.
It was recently revealed by the BRC’s own figures that vacancy rates across the UK high street have risen to 10.3 per cent and are now the highest they have been since January 2015.