Another Budget and another raft of bolt-on, quick-fix, placatory afterthoughts to prop up the creaking, outdated system of business rates.

I’ve written so much about this iniquitous tax over the past 10 years that it seems like there’s little left to say.

Everyone knows it’s an anachronism, borne of another time when property values were reasonably stable and local government taxation had a direct relationship with local businesses.

The last bit of that equation is slowly being rebalanced, albeit with some fairly lengthy strings attached in terms of council funding cuts, but we’ve yet to see a genuine attempt at reforming a scheme that is simply no longer fit for purpose.

“Then there was more mythical hardship funding that most struggling businesses will find as easy to access as The Ark of the Covenant”

Yes we’ve had many promises to ‘look at’ the system, plenty of reports from both inside and outside government recommending that changes are made and quangos set up to pontificate on the whys and wherefores.

But ultimately we only get cufflink-twiddling from successive Chancellors keen to kick the issue into the long grass for another year.

Backwards step

This year was no different. In fact, it’s arguable that Philip Hammond took a retrograde approach, effectively re-introducing a form of transitional relief which was discredited as an expedient fudge years ago.

Together with another offer of a grand in the back pocket of selected businesses with RVs below an arbitrary threshold.

Then there was more mythical hardship funding that most struggling businesses will find as easy to access as The Ark of the Covenant.

“We also had more ranting about online businesses ‘escaping’ the burden of property taxation, laying the ground for an even more damaging internet sales tax which I think we’ll all live to regret if we don’t stop talking it up”

We also had more ranting about online businesses ‘escaping’ the burden of property taxation, laying the ground for an even more damaging internet sales tax which I think we’ll all live to regret if we don’t stop talking it up.

To be fair there was one new thing this year. There were no promises of jam tomorrow, beyond some nebulous ramblings about making the revaluation cycle ‘smoother’.

And perhaps that’s the new post-Brexit, post-truth, alternative-fact reality we all have to accept. Nothing will ever change on business rates. We’ll all just have to work around them as we have done for decades.

No alternative?

It’s an easy, lucrative tax to levy, and no-one in government knows, or really wants to know, what could replace it. There is no thinking outside the box, the lid is simply taken off once a year, someone has a quick sniff inside and then slams it shut again.

“The retail cash cow will continue to slowly die of neglect and over-milking. Perhaps when it finally falls over, the Government will take notice and set about doing something fundamental and tangible”

What that means for the retail industry will become particularly evident after the newly jacked-up rates bills hit doormats in April and many stores decide enough is enough and turn up their toes.

Others may take the same decision as I did and head for the higher ground of the internet.

Either way, the retail cash cow will continue to slowly die of neglect and over-milking. Perhaps when it finally falls over, the Government will take notice and set about doing something fundamental and tangible.

But I think by then it’ll likely be too late to save the farm.