High streets minister Jake Berry MP has pledged to intervene on retailers’ behalf if local authorities fail to respond to requests for business rates relief.
Speaking at the ACS Heart of the Community event in London yesterday, Berry urged retailers to ask their local authorities to support them with rate relief, and to contact him personally if they fail to get a reply.
”If your local authority fails to respond, I want you to write to me and tell me,” he said. ”I and my department will then take that up with the local authority on your behalf. I’m doing my best to get the 150 councils who haven’t done so to set up rate relief procedures,” he said.
Berry acknowledged that business rates was “a real challenge for the government to face up to”. Alluding to the forthcoming Budget in November, Berry added: “I’m sure the Treasury shares my concerns about rates.”
In this year’s Spring Budget, the chancellor announced a package of rate relief measures, including a £300m discretionary fund for councils to distribute to small businesses facing higher rate bills, and a £110m fund to cap rate rises at £50 a month for businesses losing rate relief. However, of that £300m only £30m has been drawn so far.
“Some local authorities have failed to draw down any of these funds, and I don’t think that is acceptable,” he said. ”That is why we will keep the pressure on.” The government has just published a list of councils that have rebilled the government for the relief schemes in order to ‘name and shame’ those that haven’t done so.
Berry’s comments followed the publication of September’s inflation figures of just under 4%. The ONS Retail Price Inflation (RPI) figure is used to determine the rise in business rates next April.
Calling for a freeze on business rates, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The consequences of [the] RPI figures could be severe for many shops in a precarious position and struggling to survive. Consumers, already seeing household incomes eroded, will face further misery as the pound in their pocket buys them less at the checkout.
“For retailers this will be compounded if UK ministers fail to act and stem the hefty near four per cent rise in business rates, which is set to add an extra quarter of a billion pounds to retailers’ already unreasonable business rates burden.”
Also speaking at the Heart of the Community conference, shadow small business minister Bill Esterson reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to “radically reform rates for the long term” and introduce statutory annual revaluations.
Esterson also said Labour would introduce a lower small business corporation tax rate for those making less than £300,000 profit.
Contact Jake Berry MP here