East Anglian retailers welcome business secretary's words on business rates - but want wider action
PUBLISHED: 18:08 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:36 09 October 2018
East Anglian businesses have urged business secretary Greg Clark to make good on comments which suggest he could adjust business rates to better support high street retailers.
But some business owners say a wide overhaul of costs from rent to pensions is required to ensure high street retailers survive.
Mr Clark is reported to have suggested at a Conservative party conference fringe event that business rates could be reviewed to relieve pressure on smaller traders.
Vanessa Collen, managing director of Suffolk clothing brand Collen and Clare, said business rates were “just the straw that breaks the camel’s back”.
Of Collen and Clare three stores, the flagship is in Southwold, which hit headlines in 2017 when a business rates revaluation meant some businesses faced a rate increase of up to 177%.
Yet rates are not the sole culprit for hindering independent retailers. Ms Collen added: “Our Southwold rent has increased by more than 100% in just five years. We also have wages and now pensions which we have to pay into, and while we have no issue with paying that, all our other costs are only going one way, and we see nothing for it.”
She said she would welcome a rent cap in the town. “For the amount of rent we pay we could get a large unit in Lowestoft. While I appreciate the desire to rejuvenate certain high streets the government can’t penalise the towns that people do still want to go to. People aren’t going to keep opening shops if there’s no money to be made.”
Ms Collen has seen rates increase by £400 a month in the past year, but says councils are not using the revenue effectively enough to attract footfall. “Our stores are in beautiful locations, but there’s no car parking, no toilets, no policemen or security. If we get broken into, the onus is on us to provide CCTV footage.”
Wayne Hinton owns Marmalades, a cafe in Norwich’s Royal Arcade. He said: “We pay £19,000 a year and nothing changes, only the fact that we seem to finance the screens going up in empty shop fronts. I’ve seen footfall decrease by up to 5% every year for the last eight years. I don’t mind paying rates, as long as I see improvements for it.”
David Howell, the East Anglia area lead for the Federation of Small Businesses said: “While we appreciate the steps that the government took to soften the impact of last year’s revaluation in towns such as Southwold, further action on business rates will be necessary to prevent the closure of more high street retailers.”