This week, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £30bn package to help the economy get through the coronavirus outbreak.
Among the measures was the suspension of business rates for businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 for a year. The chancellor pledged to make grants of £3,000 available to the 700,000 businesses that currently qualify for Small Business Rates Relief.
Just 10% of all retail properties in England exceed £51,000 in rateable value. However, they account for 69% of the overall business rates burden for the sector, real estate adviser Altus Group said.
Several independent retailers welcomed the recognition of small businesses who are currently “on their knees” amid retail uncertainty.
“The chancellor has thankfully unveiled a small business Budget. The measures [Sunak has] put forward should go a long way to reinjecting optimism back into the small business community after years of uncertainty”, Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses chairman said. “This chancellor is right to recognise that levelling up starts with supporting the 5.8 million small businesses that are at the heart of communities right across the UK. We’re already seeing supply chains disrupted and footfall hurt due to the spread of coronavirus. Against this backdrop, the chancellor’s commitments to making more small business finance available, deferring tax bills, reducing business rates and setting up a hardship fund for the vulnerable – including the self-employed who cannot claim statutory sick pay – are all absolutely critical. It is critical that these measures increase both the availability and affordability of borrowing for small firms.”
One lingerie independent in Windsor, said: “This is much needed and very timely – a lot of retailers are, frankly, on their knees right now, so any help is welcome. Let’s hope bricks-and-mortar retailers can use it to release the pressure a little and keep doing what they are good at in these challenging times – customer service. We all value our bricks-and-mortar retailers, so it is great to see them being supported.”
The owner of one London-based menswear independent agreed: “The budget is designed to head off recession, given the impacts the UK have suffered lately. The business rates change is a big, big help for those with smaller or lower rental properties. It was, from an indie retail point of view, a good budget. But I hope it’s not just lip service to calm the markets: the money is needed now.”
He added: “For bigger stores, the budget didn’t do much, I genuinely feel sorry for them as – big and small – we all need each other, and one cannot really hope to survive alone.”
Despite speculation, no other immediate reform was announced for the tax. Instead, the chancellor announced the launch of a fundamental review of business rates, due to report in autumn.
Several retailers agreed that the relief is not fair for all, and branded it a “disaster” for businesses sitting slightly above the threshold.
“Unfortunately for me I am above the £51,000 rateable value at £55,000, which is very frustrating”, Julia Jaconelli, the owner of Guildford womenswear independent Courtyard, said. “I’m not sure why they have set it at this figure as I still consider myself a small business and am struggling just as much as anyone else. I think there will be a lot of businesses not able to continue in these conditions.”
Deryane Tadd, owner of Drapers Award-winning premium womenswear store The Dressing Room in St Albans, agreed: “As a small business with a rateable value above £51,000 I am extremely frustrated that we will receive no relief on our business rates whatsoever. I employ 20 people and need to keep their jobs safe during a tricky time, yet I am expected to pay my rates when all the other small businesses on the same high street will be exempt. How can this be fair?”
Medium-to-large-sized businesses claimed the high street is “not a priority” for the government.
“The budget was a disaster for medium-size businesses – no support at all on business rates”, said the owner of a medium-sized clothing business. “There is basically zero support for retail businesses in any shopping centre in the south. The budget is akin to putting a plaster onto a patient that requires emergency resuscitation.”
He added: “Rates are a liability for all businesses, not just small businesses. Medium-sized businesses were once small businesses, who decided to invest and grow – and the UK economy has markedly benefited from this growth. Now they are being penalised precisely because of this growth, as most fall above the £51k threshold. In my opinion, there must be a three-month holiday on all business rates throughout the UK, to be reviewed with business leaders on an ongoing basis.”
The managing director of one menswear retailer agreed: “There is no real attempt to address the unfair rates burden that sits with companies that occupy the majority of high street and shopping mall locations. Pushing it back again suggests it’s still not a government priority.”
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