Retail expert Mary Portas calls for business rates freeze

Image: Barnaby Carter/AFP/Getty Images

The future of independent retailers hangs in the balance and business rates should be frozen.

That’s according to retail expert Mary Portas, who has spoken out in defence of small businesses ahead of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget on Wednesday.

Dubbed the ‘Queen of Shops’, Portas wants the government to do more to support smaller retailers and said: “It’s imperative that government seriously considers freezing business rates so that our independent retailers have a fighting chance of survival in today’s shaky and volatile market.”

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As it stands, business rates will rise by more than £1bn just in England from 1 April 2018. Many small mobility firms have already undergone rate revaluations this year.

Retail group Altus secured a Freedom of Information request showing that in the five months after the revaluation, over 81,000 premises were brought before a court after failing to pay their business rates.

The group said that the current system is “criminalising struggling firms”. Robert Hayton, executive vice president of Altus Group, said: “There are two factors at play here. One is that councils are taking action on non-payment much earlier than in the past, but the main issue is one of affordability.

“It isn’t only those whose values have increased that are struggling. The current, deeply unfair, system of transitional adjustment severely limits the amount by which bills can go down, meaning many businesses in locations where values are falling are paying disproportionate bills.”

He added: “A rates liability freeze is the minimum that the Chancellor should do for business in Wednesday’s Budget.”

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