Wakefield Express campaign: Time to support your high streets

10th September 2009.'One of the empty shops on Little Westgate in Wakefield.
10th September 2009.'One of the empty shops on Little Westgate in Wakefield.

The Express is today demanding the government launches a complete overhaul of the business ratings system, an outdated formula which is crippling our high streets.

We are joining forces with hundreds of our sister Johnston Press titles, as well as the British Independent Retailers Association, to demand business rates are frozen immediately and an urgent review of the system is conducted.

Today we are asking you, the reader, to sign our online petition urging the government to think again about an unfair tax which has been increased by nearly £700m in the past three years, leaving traders with the highest property tax bills in Europe. Westminster’s Business Innovation and Rates Committee has looked at the issue of business rates and reported its findings in March, describing the business rates system as ‘not fit for purpose’ and in need of reform.

The committee called for a wholesale review including whether taxes should be based on sales rather than the rateable value of a property; whether retail needs its own system of business taxation; and how frequently revaluations should take place. In the interim, the committee called for a six-month business rates amnesty for businesses occupying empty properties.

The government was due to carry out a revaluation in 2015, but this has been put back to 2017 and beyond.

It has made no serious or firm commitment to a fundamental review of this damaging tax.

Today, The Express is calling for readers to get behind our Shop Local campaign, which calls upon the government to do the right thing for our small, independent traders.

Ashley Highfield, CEO of Johnston Press, said: “Supporting communities - and the small businesses within them - is at the heart of what we do.

“We pride ourselves on the long-standing relationships we have in so many cities, towns, villages and hamlets where we are the trusted provider of local news and information services.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of their communities and this campaign is aimed at helping them to survive in an ever more challenging environment.

“We support any initiative aimed at ensuring a healthy future for the small businesses that are so important to our local audiences.”

The campaign has received the backing of the British Independent Retailers Association which is currently lobbying Government and politicians from other parties in a bid to make the process fairer.

A spokesman for bira said: “Business rates were designed for the retail world of 1990, but they need to work for the realities of today and be made fit for 2020.

“Shops in towns pay several times per square foot what other ratepayers pay in other locations and the disadvantage is hampering small shops in their fight for survival.”

He added: “This needs to be put right permanently, not tinkered with as the government has done with a series of short term measures designed to stifle calls for fundamental, long term change.”

The government says that it delayed the review of business rates as a review next year would have caused an estimated 800,000 businesses to “miss out.”

Penny Mordaunt, the High Street minister, said: “Looking forward, our business rates review will look at improving the longer-term administration involved in the rates so the system is simple, fair and predictable for ratepayers.”

How to support our campaign: simply click here and sign our petition.

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