Bill Grimsey, former Focus boss and high street supporter, has written to Chancellor George Osborne, urging him to avoid “damaging” the retail sector with business rate increases.
In a letter ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on December 5, Grimsey said many retailers see business rates as an “anti-business tax”.
Grimsey, who published his alternative review into boosting UK high streets in September, said: “At a time when UK retail sales are down for October, high streets are still recording declining footfall and Tie Rack, Barratts and Blockbuster are the latest household names to announce mass store closures, retailers are particularly fearful of the damage you could do.”
He added that businesses all over the country are “dreading” the Autumn Statement for fear that the intended 3.2% rates increase will go ahead. This is expected to add £242m to retailers’ business rates bills next year.
Grimsey said that the Government’s decision to delay the rates revaluation for two years to 2017 has meant that rents “no longer have any real link to property values”.
He added: “While the market has seen property values and rents come down, business rates continue to defy reality and go up every year.”
Business rates are a huge concern for the retail sector which has had to absorb consistently high increases to their rates bills over the past three years. Last year business rates increased 5.6% and this year they increased 2.6%.
Retailers have complained that the high costs are restricting investment and new job creation.
In the letter, Grimsey urged Osborne to reinstate the revaluation for 2015 and freeze business rates next year. He also called for the Government to overhaul the business rates system.
“This will require political courage,” he said. “But most of all it’ll need common sense. Once these qualities are combined you’ll be able to put the high street back on a sound footing, instill confidence in business and put high streets at the heart of a meaningful recovery that people will begin to feel instead of just hearing politicians talk about it.”