Landlords cannot let space for a paltry £1 in some of the most distressed towns in the UK due to the burden of business rates, MPs were told last week.
Leading industry figures recently gave evidence to MPs on the BIS select committee, which is holding an inquiry into government support for the retail sector.
Mark Williams, chairman of the Distressed Town Centre Taskforce, said the government’s decision to delay the rates revaluation until 2017 had impacted the sector in “quite a catastrophic way”.
“It is not even a question of the landlord dropping the rent. They can drop it to nothing and they still cannot let it, so clearly rates have got to a position where it is unfair,” he said.
“You now have this ridiculous situation where the most distressed towns, such as Bromsgrove, are supporting Bond Street, Walsall supporting the West End.”
Williams added that he was unaware of anyone who had asked for the revaluation delay. “I am not aware that even the supermarkets, the beneficiaries, have asked for it,” he said.
Association of Convenience Stores chairman and independent retailer Jonathan James said it was easy to lose sight of the reality of this year’s 2.6% rates rise.
“If you take one of my stores, two years ago I was paying £56,000 a year rates. This year it is £63,000 a year,” he said. “That is a staggering figure. In the largest recession we have had in living memory suddenly I have to find another £7,000 for no better service and nothing different.”
Committee member and Worcester MP Robin Walker responded: “That is something all of us will recognise from our constituencies, with businesses that will have come to see us.”