Chancellor’s £13.6bn business rates package gets mixed reaction
While the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has seen an explosion of media headlines and comments, with the 17 November budget deemed as “punishing”, it did include a £13.6billion business rates support package.
As the country is now officially in recession and facing record falls in living standards due to the highest level of tax rises for 60 years, alongside increased energy bills and continually rising inflation, the government has stepped in with measures to help High Street retailers.
But, as Samantha Gibbs, owner of three Nest greeting card and gift shops in Stoneygate, Broughton Astley and Thurlaston, explained, if you have more than one shop, the reduction in business rates only applies to one premises.
She said: “With growing energy bills, a cost-of-living crisis, the highest tax burdens for the past few generations and soaring inflation, plus the pressure to achieve national living wages, the retail industry has a huge amount to compete with just to stay afloat.
“It’s some comfort that the opportunity to pay reduced business rates has been afforded to us, and for many this cannot be underestimated. I’m not getting too excited about it though as. although it’s a bonus, I have three premises which I pay business rates on and this relief will only be applicable to one of them. While I’m confident we will survive the upcoming challenges, I’m also aware that it won’t be enough for many of our lovely independents.”
In Cudworth, Wishes’ owner Julia Keeling admitted she doesn’t pay too much attention: “To be honest I’ve not even looked at the news or the budget. I find it all doom and gloom at the moment so try and stay positive and keep on trucking with my little shop.
“We have been very quiet this last few months with customers cutting back and not shopping as much. As a store we’re trying to keep orders to a minimum and looking at wholesale stock to keep us in a competitive market on the High Street. Hopefully Christmas will be ok but it might be very last minute this year.”
Greg Rose, co-owner of three Maybugs gift, card and lifestyle stores in Bexhill-On-Sea, Eastbourne, and Hailsham, added: “I always try to see the positive side of things, but this statement doesn’t fill me with confidence. Of course, the business rate reductions are welcome, but the revaluations are very concerning.
“The 10% increase in the minimum wage means we must increase all our salaries to keep them competitive, even for those not on minimum wage. I fail to see many positives for small independent High Street retailers. Plus, the uncertainty of where support will be given when the Energy Relief Scheme ends in March is very worrying.”
However, Richard Barker, who has four Cilla & Camilla greetings, gift, and home stores in Bridport, Sherbourne and Beaminster, said: “Any support is welcome. This move in particular is welcome if it signals a genuine intent to deliver the long-overdue reform of the business rates system.
That said, I’m very angry about the Conservative government’s gross mismanagement of the economy over a protracted period. And, angry about the instability which this year’s wholly avoidable political unrest has generated.”
At Williams Of Audlem, owner Judy Evans is lucky enough not to have had to worry about business rate as the local Cheshire East Council has reduced liabilities under a certain threshold to zero within rural communities.
She said: “This has given very welcome relief to many rural Cheshire retailers, particularly through Covid, and now through the present economic crisis. It’s a pity more local councils haven’t followed Cheshire East Council’s lead over business rates, and really given their local retailers a fighting chance in this unpredictable and unstable climate.”
Among the retail organisations praising the Chancellor’s support for the High Street was the British Independent Retailers’ Association (Bira), whose members include many independent greeting and gift retailers.
“The Autumn Statement delivered some welcome news for independent retailers with regards to business rates,” stated Bira’s ceo Andrew Goodacre. “Next year, the multiplier will be frozen for 12 months, and the retail discount has been increased to 75% from 50% and downwards transitional relief has been removed. These are positive steps to support the High Street.”
However, the association warned that tough times lie ahead with consumer confidence declining, making for a difficult business climate.
He added: “We would like to have seen more done to encourage more spending, especially in the run up to Christmas and we are very concerned that disposable income will be reduced as a result of this budget.”
Top: The Autumn Statement has seen taxes soar to the highest for over 60 years