OUR shops are being killed off by sky-high business rates – that’s the warning from traders as a new campaign is launched to help ensure they get a fairer deal.
The News has teamed up with its sister papers in Johnston Press to lobby the government for changes in the way local firms are taxed in a bid to ensure high streets thrive.
The current business ratings system is based on the rateable value of the property a company occupies instead of something fairer like its sales – which is crippling many independent retailers.
We want this to be seriously addressed by ministers as part of an urgent review, and shops have given their full support of such action.
Pat Scott, owner of Mays of Cosham fish and chip shop, in Cosham High Street, said in support of the campaign: ‘This is a great thing, I back The News 100 per cent.
‘The business rates are really killing businesses.
‘The high streets are getting worse, they’re full of charity shops.
‘We’re not getting enough help from the government or the council in getting reduced rates.’
Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of Portsmouth City Council, said she would back any review that better supports local businesses.
‘It’s essential that leaders in the city work with the business community to have a meaningful dialogue with the government to try and address this issue,’ she said.
Melissa Poulton, owner of In With The In Crowd, a 1960s clothing and furniture shop in West Street, Fareham, said she hasn’t been able to move closer to the main shopping area because of expensive business rates.
Ms Poulton said: ‘There are a lot of empty units, and when you see big companies going bust and moving out, you think what hope is there for independents? Both the rent and rates are so high for us, and it meant we couldn’t afford to be any closer to the town centre.’
Giles Babb, chairman of Emsworth Business Association, said: ‘The rents are definitely killing businesses. We have seen a lot of shops close, and they have been replaced with charity stores because they get very discounted rates.
The News launched its weekly Shop Local page in February in support of retailers that are run by and employ local people – and this new initiative is an expansion of that.
Stewart Dunn, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘We welcome The News’ initiative to highlight the financial unfairness of business rates locally.
‘An overhaul is long overdue and would support struggling retailers.
‘Business rates, as they stand, are not fit for purpose.’
The News hopes the campaign will help pile pressure Chancellor George Osborne to announce changes to the business tax model through his Autumn Statement on December 3.
The government had originally announced earlier in the year that a revaluation may not be held until at least 2017.
A petition has been launched to enable readers to get behind the campaign.
Councillors consider ways to help shops
BUS links, free parking and provision for cyclists were all topics of discussion at a meeting held to boost business in smaller shopping centres across the city.
The economic development, culture and leisure scrutiny panel at Portsmouth City Council met last night to discuss ways of helping out smaller shopping areas, such as those at Allaway Avenue in Paulsgrove and in North End.
Chair of the panel Councillor Julie Swan said: ‘These shopping areas are vitally important as they are where local people go to shop. We have got to look at ways to bring people there.’
The panel heard a presentation from Marc Griffin, assistant head of service, environment and transport, who said that these smaller areas were relatively well served by bus services.
He said that the council funds 14 per cent of city bus services, with the rest being in the hands of commercial operators First and Stagecoach.
The panel also heard from Michael Robinson, parking operations manager, who said that giving shoppers a free hour’s parking in Cosham had proved successful and had boosted trade.
He said that other smaller areas had also benefited from free parking provision.
He said: ‘I see no issue in giving away half hour free parking.
‘It works well in Elm Grove, Southsea, but it needs to be enforced. Anywhere that has a need for a parking enforcement officer to visit twice means that it will double the cost to the council.’
Mr Robinson said that there were some issues with staff parking in unrestricted spaces near to businesses.
The panel also discussed ways of educating retailers about energy efficiency improvements, which in turn could save them money.
Spaces for cyclists to lock their bikes also came up as an idea of boosting trade at these smaller shopping areas.
The councillors agreed to liaise with traders associations to see if there were any smaller arrangements that could have a benefit, such as Christmas tree holders or providing flowers.
They will meet again on November 12.