Johnson urged to fix ‘broken business rates system’


Following the appointment of new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, bira is challenging the Government to resolve what it sees as ‘on-going issues that are burdening independent businesses’, in a bid to secure a stable future for the nation’s high streets.

While in general bira’s preferred approach is verbal correspondence with MPs, a letter – sighted by NPN – has been drafted to the Chancellor Robert Buckland challenging ‘the broken business rates system’.

“This outdated tax is hindering our plans for investment, holding back productivity growth and detrimentally impacting communities up and down the country,” the letter begins.

Referencing the 20% rise in business rates the UK has seen in the last decade, the letter impresses upon the Chancellor the ‘dramatic’ extent to which the high street has been affected: “Retail unit vacancy rates have risen to 11%, a four-year high, with many of those units having been empty for over two years.

This outdated tax is … detrimentally impacting communities up and down the country

“Business rates often represent the tipping point between opening a new store or a store’s viability and its closure, with obvious consequences for employment and high street vitality, particularly in the most vulnerable, economically-deprived locations.”

Appealing for change from the top, bira’s main points are three-fold: ‘Find a Brexit solution that works for independent businesses’; ‘Make business rates discount permanent’; and ‘Encourage local councils to provide more free and accessible parking in town centres’.

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of bira, comments that ‘with months to go until we leave the EU time is of the essence for the new Prime Minister’.

“Anxiousness is at an all-time high, confidence has hit rock-bottom and it is severely affecting independent businesses. 91.96% of bira members are expecting cost price increases, whether modest or significant, as a result of Brexit and this will only add to the drop in footfall. Without a pro-business Brexit that includes a deal, independent retailers will not be able to compete, and it would lead to more business closures. It’s essential that our high streets remain thriving and attractive options for consumers.”

Having already successfully campaigned for a 30% reduction in business rates for the smallest retailers, Goodacre says Johnson now needs to ‘take action to ensure the retail discount is made permanent’.

Swift action from the Prime Minister is now needed on these issues to ensure the future of our high streets

“Many retailers will have become reliant on this reduction and to implement their rates again in 2020 could be devastating to their business, especially when they have so many other increasing costs including rising wages, pensions increases and the implementation of Making Tax Digital.

“I truly believe one of the greatest things about being independent is their ability to adapt to changing trends, unlike the bigger retailers. This gives independent retailers an edge and we are seeing lots of our members diversifying to allow them to offer products and services that shoppers need to come to the high street for and can’t just buy online. Whilst we know town centres need to change and develop, retail should absolutely still form a part of that. Independent retailers keep money in the local community, they provide jobs and are often the only contact some people have.

“Swift action from the Prime Minister is now needed on these issues to ensure the future of our high streets,” he finishes.