Final plea from retailers for rates relief

The skies are darkening for small businesses across the UK in anticipation of George Osborne’s Autumn statement next week, which will either make or break the aspirations of many business owners clinging to the hope of rate reform.   

In preparation, a final brigade of retailers and business groups are gathering to make a last-gasp push to persuade the Chancellor to reform the controversial tax, and offer needed relief.

In a letter written by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), industry figures have been asked to send letters to their local MPs about the need to reform business rates.  Meanwhile, key business groups, including the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), have placed the tax at the top of their Autumn Statement wishlist.

The revision to business rates was introduced in 1 April 2013, after being presented through the Local Government Finance Act 2012.  Under the revised rate scheme, revenue collected through business rates is split between a national and a local pot – the latter being subject to tariff, levy, top ups and safety payments, and the former to be distributed by the Government in the form of a Revenue Support Grant.  According to the Government, the change was to give local councils financial incentives to grow their economies.

Since its revision, the business rate tax has been subject to widespread controversy.  In particular, industry figures have criticised it for the added burden it places on the UK’s already-struggling retail sector, the evidence of which can be seen in the hollowed out high street stores across the country, marked only by weather-beaten signs with company names now fallen into inexistence.

Retailers are calling for the Chancellor to extend a package of relief measures he put in place in last year’s Autumn Statement.

Meanwhile, business leaders have voiced concerns that the tax is detracting from the attractiveness of the UK as an investible economy.

A spokesperson for the FSB said: “With the economic recovery just taking hold and many firms on the High Street still struggling, it is essential that the temporary doubling of relief, announced in the 2013 Autumn Statement, is extended,” said a spokesman.

“The FSB is also calling for improvements to the system for valuation and appeals which are overly bureaucratic, and above all a commitment to fundamental reform of the business rate system.”

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