Retail chiefs respond to Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

Retail associations have reacted positively to Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, in which he announced a cap on business rate rises for next year of 2% and said that reform of the system is on the agenda for the 2017 revaluation, with a discussion paper coming out in Spring 2014.

Further help on rates included an extension of small business rates relief, addressing the backlog in appeals, introducing reoccupation rates relief and a two-year discount of up to £1,000 for retailers with properties with a rateable value of less than £50,000. George Osborne also announced measures to abolish employer National Insurance contributions for those under 21 years old.

Alan Hawkins, ceo of bira (British Independent Retailers Association) commented: “There are clearly some positives with regard to the rate relief issue, but nothing concrete has yet been agreed. bira needs to work hard to ensure that the reform delivers strongly in favour of the high street and does not get hijacked by a whole different range of self-interest groups”.

Bira continued: “The extension of small business rate relief is welcome – but it’s just that: a small relief, and one which affects few shops.T he £1,000 discount on properties with a rateable value of up to £50,000, however, will help many of the smaller shops and is a bigger relief.

“But not all independents are small independents and a 2% cap on business rates is better than a 3.2% hike. Yet neither is as good as a freeze – and even a freeze would just avoid making an already bad situation worse.

“Reoccupation relief will help new shops open in empty units and is welcome – allied to the helpful news on National Insurance for young people, this could help to boost both town centre activity and employment.

The Association added: “The announcement of reform of the tax is exactly what bira has been calling for since 2011. But why wait until 2017? The Chancellor should have reinstated the 2015 revaluation and set the reform process in operation right now.”

Giving the British Retail Consortium (BRC)’s reaction, director-general Helen Dickinson said: “The Chancellor has recognised that businesses are suffering and is right to listen to retailers’ concerns on business rates. The BRC has campaigned for a 2% cap, and reform of the business rates system, and it is extremely welcome to hear it announced.

“The BRC is already conducting a detailed study into options to improve the business rates system with tax experts EY and looks forward to playing a full part in the discussions that will take place with Government on the reform of the system.

“With the additional measures also announced on National Insurance, retailers will be encouraged to do even more to support the aspirations of young people across the country. 40% of all jobs for those under 20 are in retail, and this will help retailers provide secure career opportunities for young people.”

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) noted that there were positive measures to help reduce the cost of doing business. Alexander Jackman, Head of Policy at the Forum of Private Business, said: “Within a time of constrained budgets, it’s good to see the Chancellor has listened to the concerns of small businesses around rising costs.”

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