Norwich businesses seek more help
A key debate is due to take place in parliament which could delay a revision of business rates until 2017. ROSA MCMAHON looks at how business rates are affecting local retailers
It is no secret the economic climate for both consumers and retailers is difficult and often unforgiving.
Despite having just come out of the longest double-dip recession since the 1950s, the percentage of empty shops in the UK is still at 14pc, with more and more national stores going into administration.
Here in Norwich the numbers are more promising, with empty shops in the city decreasing from 9.2pc in 2009-2010, to 7.8pc today.
But, as reported in the Norwich Evening News last week, the owners of Union Yard caf� had to give up their dream by closing shop after just nine months.
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Caf� owner Steven Winter, 31, blamed the rise in business rates – taxes which are charged on non-domestic properties like shops, offices and pubs – in combination with a rental lease which would tie him in for another three years to the shop.
Questions are starting to arise over how other small independent shops are faring, what is being done to help them stay afloat, and how, ultimately, they are having to help themselves.
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Much of Norwich's independent areas of the city are based around the Norwich Lanes, housing shops and businesses set up and run by local people.
Mr Winter said: 'It's unbelievable that you pay so much and the business rates keep going up.'
And in the coming weeks MPs will be asked to support plans by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to delay a revision of business rates until 2017, which would mean small shops having the measure for their rates set at 2008 levels, which was close to the peak of the market and property boom.
A revaluation of the rates from the 2008 levels would likely result in a sharp changes to business rates bills.
Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said that all retailers were suffering, but that it was 'great' that Norwich had so many independents.
However, she said the smaller retailers don't have that financial support of the 'big boys', adding: 'When it gets tough, it affects the independents immediately'.
She said that national businesses are finding ways to improve their customer service, which she believes puts a strain on independents.
She stressed independent shops are very valuable in Norwich, but said that she does recognise how challenging it is for them, and that they need to learn to explore new avenues using technology and social media.
Buy today's Evening News to hear what independent retailers in the Norwich Lanes think about the rise in rates and their experiences of trading in the city.