“What a relief! Governments and our Chancellor are trotting out the phrase ‘Build Back Better!’ and one of the key things to allow us to do that is the extension of the business rates relief for another year,” exclaimed David Robertson, managing director of JP Pozzi and Bijou in Elgin and Buckie when the news broke recently that the business rates holiday in Scotland is to be extended for a further 12 months for the retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors, taking it up until 31 March 2022.
Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes shared the decision two days ago (February 17) due to £1.1 billion of ‘consequential funding’ being released by the UK Government in connection to the coronavirus. The good went down a storm with greeting card retailers and sales agents in the country.
“It means I can plan out the next 12 months with an increased degree of certainty,” said Michael Apter, owner of Paper Tiger, which has two shops in Edinburgh. “Cities like Edinburgh, with a high number of daily office workers, and a reliance on international tourism face a long road back toward a sustainable level of footfall, and the decision on business rates reflects that reality for many sectors.”
Denise Laird of Spirito in Glasgow highlights that the extended rates holiday represents “significant benefit” to her business by reducing the fixed costs especially after the periods of enforced store closure. “The original rates holiday was due to expire at the end of March this year and a return to paying rates at that time on the back of a disrupted Christmas trading period and online only trading since the start of 2021 would have further compounded the impact to cash flow for the year ahead,” Denise sums up.
“Absolutely marvellous!” Lesley Davidson, owner of Best Wishes, Westhill, Aberdeenshire exclaimed about the news. “What a boost it is that you don’t have to factor in rates at this challenging time. Long may it continue!!”
Equally euphoric is Laura Bell, owner of Ivad, Paisley. “It is fantastic news as rates are such a high overhead for us. It makes such a difference, we are so delighted!” Laura told Scottish sales agent Corrine Forbes. “Needless to say I am delighted for my customers. It is a huge relief for them and a big benefit until March 2022, especially under the current circumstances,” Corrine commented to PG Buzz.
However, the drive continues to push for more help for retailers. As Fiona Fabien, owner of Papyrus in Glasgow points out: “The government support has been inadequate for this lockdown compared to Spring last year. The grants this time round are a lot less so the rates holiday will help, but is still well short of covering our outgoings during lockdown.”
Paper Tiger’s Michael Apter would like to see an “extension of the furlough scheme” as well as a complete overhaul of the business rates system. “Governments need to find a more equitable way of ensuring taxation is based on turnover and profitability. High Street retailing has borne the cost of business rates for decades and has been seen as a golden egg for local authorities for too long,” believes Michael.
JP Pozzi’s David Robertson has already made his feelings known to Scotland’s Business Minister, Jamie Hepburn recently at a Zoom meeting convened by the Moray Chamber of Commerce and today (19 February), David is meeting with the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross at which he will push for support for retailers. “The help for retail this time is not enough to even cover fixed costs and if it were a ‘report card’ the phrase would be ‘the Government must try harder’. We must look to even the balance between what internet-only retailers contribute and what bricks and mortar stores do as just now it is simply unfair. The longer this lockdown goes on the longer many good retailers feel that their energy, belief and businesses are slipping away. Come on Rishi ‘Power us up!!!’ This is a step in the right direction, but many other things can and need to be achieved.”
David’s views are echoed by many, including Scottish sales agent Lucy Sharp of Sharp Stuff Sales. As Lucy sums up: “It’s a good start, that’s for sure! It’s late in the day coming, but to finally have some clarity and for retailers to be able to take a breath and start thinking about planning for the months ahead, rather than being consumed with the day-to-day firefighting, is welcomed.
The whole system obviously needs an overhaul and the issue of unfair taxation arrangements for large online companies becomes ever more pressing, but as a starting point it allows to put this cash into retaining staff, continue their investments in adapting their businesses to the digital age and keep investing in new stock.”
Looking at the broader picture, outside of just greeting card retailers, Lucy add: “This measure is better for all of us, regardless of where you sit in the retail community. And for consumers too, as it is clearer than ever before how everyone benefits from a vibrant, diverse retail offering, especially one in which it is feasible for dynamic independent businesses to compete. Now we all need to hope, for our industry’s sake, that Sunak follows on sharpish!”
The business rates holiday in England is currently due to end on March 31, but fingers and toes are crossed by greeting card retailers up and down the country that Rishi Sunak announces in his Budget (to be delivered on March 3) that this will be extended and a whole reform of the business rates system will be worked through.
Top: The Scottish Parliament announced on Wednesday that the business rates holiday will be extended to March 2022.