Reform business rates to trigger investment, MPs told

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Business rates must be reformed if retailers are to invest in their businesses and help UK high streets to flourish, an influential committee of MPs has been told.

Giving evidence at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s inquiry on high streets, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reiterated its call on the government to incentivise retailers to invest in their businesses by deferring business rates hikes, as a result of that investment, by at least a year.

Speaking at the session, ACS head of policy and public affairs Edward Woodall said: “Two of the defining characteristics of successful businesses on high streets today are those that are convenient and provide an experience for customers.

“These characteristics depend on flexibility and an ability for those retailers to invest. However, the key issue facing retailers looking to invest in their stores is that their rates bills increase when they do so.

“When retailers invest to make their businesses more secure by putting in more CCTV, or introduce a new service as part of a wider offer to customers, their rates bills go up.

“The business rates system can be improved by incentivising investment instead of putting an extra cost burden on retailers.”

The Committee is considering evidence from ACS, and other industry bodies, as part of an inquiry into the future role of the high street in contributing to the local economy and the health, cohesion and cultural life of the local community.

The inquiry is also looking at how local areas are planning for the future of their high streets and town centres and creating the conditions to sustain them in the years ahead, as well as whether councils have the planning, licensing, tax raising and other tools needed to help local areas flourish.

In its submission to the 2018 Budget, the ACS has also called on the government to introduce a new rating methodology for online distribution warehouses based on their turnover, with the funds raised being used to subsidise the rates bills of bricks and mortar businesses trading on high streets.

Alongside the formal evidence sessions, the committee is looking for views from the public on why their high-street matters and what they think could be improved about it. The public can tweet their views and pictures of their high street using the hashtag #myhighstreetmatters.

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