High streets must be handed a “lifeline” by the Government with a business rate freeze from April 2019, when the next inflation-linked rise is scheduled, warns the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The UK’s leading small employers’ body believes town and city centres are in urgent need of support to prevail amid a “perfect storm” of increasing commercial rents and business rates, higher employment costs and a growing rivalry with online and out-of-town competitors.
The FSB believes a freeze would have a profoundly positive impact on high streets and proposed giving local shops, restaurants, cafes and public houses a further £1,000 discount on rates bills. It insists this would give a “shot in the arm for high streets”.
The FSB also wants the Government to review its new three-tier “check, challenge and appeal” system for business rates. New figures suggest there has been an alarming fall in the number of rates appeals made by small firms. Meanwhile last year, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) found that 90% of small retailers were dissatisfied with the new appeal system.
The FSB insists there should be an easier way for small retailers to challenge rates bills that are disproportionately high.
Further improvements such as improved town centre parking options and guarantees regarding access to finance and banking services would also be significant boons for small retailers, according to the FSB.
Cuts to the ATM network and the culling of several bank branches across the country has made shopping on the high street harder for consumers; hitting the bottom lines of traders hard.
The Royal Bank of Scotland, a British bank with the largest percentage of small business customers, recently confirmed a string of fresh branch closures.
The FSB therefore reiterated the importance of the UK’s Post Office network, recommending that all branches are given the training and resources to offer entry-level business banking services for small retailers.
Mike Cherry, National Chairman, FSB, said: “Small business owners are resilient and are used to adapting to market forces, but we want to see government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive, but to thrive.”