Chancellor announces review of business rates, bowing to demands of campaigners

NADV 1407151AM1 Montpellier Hill. (1407151AM1)
NADV 1407151AM1 Montpellier Hill. (1407151AM1)

Chancellor George Osborne has bowed to the demands of campaigners including the Harrogate Advertiser after it was revealed he will launch a review of business rates.

So far more than 5,000 people have signed the petition, both in this newspaper and online, in a bid to convince our leading politicians that business rates need to be overhauled now, rather than wait for a review in more than two years’ time.

We have also called for business rates to be frozen while this review is conducted.

As the newspaper was going to press it was revealed that Mr Osborne was to review the business rates system, in a bid to help High Street shops compete with internet retailers.

He made the announcement in his eagerly anticipated Autumn Statement, which out-lines the Government’s strategy for tackling the economy.

Our campaign has received praise from many quarters and now Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), has said: “The ratchet effect built into the current system sees many businesses paying rates that far exceed their rent and only ever increase, no matter how the economy is doing.”

A spokesman for our cam-paign partners British Inde-pendent Retailers Association (Bira), is delighted with the public’s response to our campaign and said: “The petition campaign is building momentum strongly and its combination of local engagement and national importance is unique.

“It’s a vital part of a growing movement to counter a damag-ing tax that will see another 2.3 per cent loaded on top of the burden on local businesses.”

Ashley Highfield, the chief executive of our owner Johnston Press, said: “It’s clear from the number of people that have signed our petition already the depth of feeling and support there is for small businesses up and down the country.

“Local businesses drive local economy and when that hap-pens communities then thrive.

“As local media owners we have a duty to businesses - and the communities they serve - to ensure this remains on the news agenda if change is to happen and urge everyone to not only sign the petition but to shop locally too.

“These are the sorts of issues which are going to be of critical importance in the run up to the elections next year - and decision makers need to start lis-tening.”

Acting president of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce Sandra Doherty welcomed the Chancellor’s an-nouncement.

She said: “This is very im-portant to Harrogate. The business rates here are sky high and it puts us at a very unfair disadvantage to other shopping centres, especially for the smaller retailers who struggle.

“In Harrogate we benefit from excellent service from the council - our streets are clean and tidy and aren’t covered in graffiti.

“But for the rates we raise here in Harrogate they are not just spread here or even in North Yorkshire, they are spread across the whole country. It would be nice to know it is spent where we live.

“ Harrogate is a town of small, independent retailers, that is why people come to Harrogate and the more we can encourage that the better it is for all of us.”

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones took the matter to the Chancellor after being inspired by the campaign in the Harrogate Advertiser.

“I raised the problem because has been raised by businesses in the area over the past few weeks and because of the very timely campaign from the Harrogate Advertiser,” he said.

“It is an important issue and I am happy I took it to the Chancellor. I think the Advertiser has hit on a very good campaign.

“Business rates have become a bit of a problem, that is why it is appropriate to have this review. We need to make sure we don’t put barriers in the way of small businesses existing and starting up.

“It is great to get such a positive response from the Chancellor.

There will be a review and he said I will be very welcome to take part in that, which is exactly what I will do.”

The Harrogate Advertiser has been praised for its campaigning after Chancellor George Osborne announced a fundamental review of business rates.

More than 5,000 people signed our nationwide petition which called on Mr Osborne to carry out an urgent review of the entire business ratings system and freeze the rate while a review was conducted. Yesterday the chancellor boosted business everywhere when he made the announcement on rates during his Autumn Statement.

Although the rate has not been frozen, small retail businesses have seen the amount of discount they are entitled to rise 50 per cent to £1,500, which is seen as a boost to many small independent shops.

A Government spokesman confirmed that the team behind the review was scheduled to report back by the Budget in Spring 2016. He said it would be the most wide ranging review of business rates since they were designed in 1988 but emphasised that the Government would not want to lose any revenue as a result of the study.

Michael Weedon, the director of communications at the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and our partners in the campaign, welcomed the review but was disappointed that rates were not frozen in the interim.

He said: “We are delighted that a review is going ahead and we look forward to taking part and making sure it is the most useful review it can be.

“There is evidence that the Government knows there is real evidence there is a problem which needs to be solved.”

Paul TurnerMitchell, who has long campaigned for the reform of business rates, said: “What your campaign has done has brought about, in a very short space of time, a campaign that shows the effect of business rates on a local business.

“The campaign has been heard at the doors of Westminster. You have highlighted the concerns of local people.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The Chancellor has used the last Autumn Statement before the election to demonstrate that he is listening to and supporting British businesses across the entire country.”By focusing on key business priorities, such as Britain’s broken business rates system and the difficulty of accessing finance for growth, the Chancellor has demonstrated that he is committed to solving problems that hinder the growth aspirations of many firms.”

John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The FSB is delighted to see the double small business rate relief remain for another year and a full review of the outdated business rates system - something we’ve long argued for.”