Call to cut business rates

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A COUNCILLOR has criticised the way business rates are calculated.

It come as a new report into high streets says business rates must be cut to end the risk of 20,000 stores closing across the country in the next 12 months.

Councillor Graham Burgess, the deputy leader of Gosport Borough Council, emphasised the council does not keep cash from the rates.

He said: ‘The business rates in High Street are totally different to the ones in Stoke Road, and totally different to those in Lee-on-the-Solent.

‘It’s as though somebody just plucks figures out of the air.

‘If it works out we get the business rates then we can actually try and do things with them.’

The new review is by former Iceland and Wickes chief executive Bill Grimsey.

Mr Grimsey’s review makes 31 recommendations to government in an ‘alternative’ review to that by retail guru Mary Portas.

In it he calls for an immediate reintroduction of the 2015 business rates revaluation.

Mr Grimsey said: ‘During our review we’ve discovered that thousands of small businesses are at risk of failure and over 50 per cent of local authorities who responded to a freedom of information request had no town centre plan of any description.

‘Business rates came up all the time and when you meet small traders who are paying more than double their rent in business rates, then you realise this is an unfair tax that is completely out of touch with property values.’

He added: ‘Young entrepreneurs are more likely to set up an online business than a bricks and mortar one on a high street because the overheads are too prohibitive.

‘We cannot rely on major chains to keep the high street alive.’

He is calling for a high streets minister to be appointed and sets out plans for town centre commissions to bring together leisure, stores, health centres, education and housing.

The Portas review was published 18 months ago and included recommendations such as setting up 27 ‘Portas Pilots’ that shared £2.3m of funding.

A £10 million High Street Innovation Fund was also set up to help councils with the highest incidence of empty properties and those most affected by the 2011 riots.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said they had taken a range of measures to help the high street, including loosening planning restrictions to encourage housing and cutting rates for small businesses.

He added: ‘Small firms and shops are at the heart of our high streets and local communities, and we are supporting them to help the economy grow.

‘Figures show that the level of small business rate relief has trebled since the general election, because of government initiatives.’