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Retail giants urge Chancellor to reform rates or see high streets wither and die

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More than 50 major high street retail groups have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javed demanding reform to the business rate system that they say puts unfair burden on businesses outside the wealthy southeast of the country.

The letter was coordinated by the British Retail Consortium, whose chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE says the current rates system is killing the high street.

“The future of retail is an issue that matters to people everywhere — it employs three million people and serves the needs of the entire country. Yet transitional relief undermines both the industry as a whole, and many regions that it serves. Northern high streets effectively subsidise London banks, forcing a £600m transfer of wealth to the capital; this could be used to support investment in people and technology that would benefit all parts of the UK.

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“Every year retail faces higher and higher business rates bills, holding back much needed investment in an industry that is transforming at a dramatic pace. Swift action at the upcoming Budget would show the Chancellor was serious about levelling up all parts of the UK and supporting a retail industry towards realising a brighter future,” she says.

The only jeweller among the 50+ signatories to the letter is Andrew Hinds, director at F Hinds, who warns that rates are having a devastating effect on communities.

“As government quite rightly works to ‘level up’ communities with one hand, the other is taking huge sums from the retail businesses struggling to survive in those communities through excessive business rates. If we don’t reduce the cost of doing business in these towns to a sustainable level, we will kill their high streets, making it for harder for locals to find opportunities to find work and to access services.  This will reduce social mobility,” Mr Hinds urges.

“The Government should immediately implement the reduction that a business is entitled to as a result of a revaluation, rather than continuing to collect more than is justified over several years. Furthermore, they must acknowledge that any significant reduction in rental values is a ‘material change’ in circumstances and grounds for a business to appeal its excessive rates bill.”

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hinds adds: “F Hinds has 127 shops across the UK, which makes it too big to qualify for business rates relief from the government. They would fare better if they could relaunch as 127 small businesses.”

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder