The Government’s failure to extend its business rate relief scheme has been branded a “huge blow” for small high street retailers.

The scheme, which was first announced in 2013’s autumn statement, means a 50% discount for 18 months to businesses moving into empty shops. The move was an effort to cut the number of vacant shops on Britain’s high streets. It came following Mary Portas’ review of high streets in 2011.

However, the Government revealed in yesterday’s autumn statement it will not be renewed when it ends in March.

Robert Hayton, head of empty rates team at chartered surveyor Altus Group, said: “This is a huge blow to the retail sector. This will impact greatest where it is needed most, struggling high streets and susceptible locations.

“For these the loss of this vital £1,500 relief could be the final nail in the coffin.”

Jerry Schurder, head of business rates at Gerald Eve, added: “Retailers will be distraught that this relief has been removed, and it is the smallest and most vulnerable shops on the most down-at-heel high streets that will be affected the most. For these shops the £1,500 could be the difference between the life and death of the business.”

Separately, the Government extended its small business rate relief scheme for another year.

Businesses face a new apprenticeship levy of 0.5% of their total wage bill. The CBI branded it a “significant extra payroll tax on business”. But businesses that spend less than £3m on wages annually will not be affected by the tax as each employer will receive a £15,000 allowance that offsets the cost.