The Autumn Statement has become a political set piece almost on par with the Budget, so what did the Chancellor announce this year? First, let’s credit him on renewing Small Business Rate Relief for another year. This measure helps small businesses to the tune of more than £1bn a year.
While this will help many, it was the exclusion of another policy that we are most concerned about. Over the past two years, government has given high street retailers a rates discount of £1,000 (in 2014) and £1,500 (in 2015). Unfortunately, the Treasury has confirmed that this policy has not been renewed and will end in 2016. It is worth putting this into context. The retail rates discount was introduced out of a desire to help high street retailers to compete in the face of high vacancy rates, tough internet competition and concern about dying town centres. With this measure now being officially scrapped, does the government believe that its work is done when it comes to high streets and retail?
There are also long-term implications in the Autumn Statement for the future of business rates. The Chancellor has talked in terms of removing the ‘uniform business rate’, but this remains firmly in place, with local authorities given the opportunity to vary it. The fundamental way in which your business rates are calculated has not been changed, and this remains a key decision for government in its review of business rates.
In the months leading up to the April Budget, we will be campaigning for the renewal of the retail rate discount along with calling for wider rates reform to help small businesses.