FEATURE: Helping the high street to survive?
Walk down most shopping streets nowadays and you are likely to see plenty of empty units and a lack of small, local independent businesses.
You are more likely to see national chains making every high street look pretty much like every other.
But often it is the independent and smaller specialists that give a town or a city its own identity and give customers a unique reason for visiting.
And now, with business rates on the rise, it could be the final nail in the coffin for many independent stores set to bear the brunt of the new charges.
The new rates came into force on Saturday, April 1 - the first revaluation since 2010.
Business rates are calculated by a property’s annual rental value, rather than the firm’s size, turnover or profits.
However, the new changes are likely to hit small firms and niche businesses the hardest - with 500,000 expected to witness a rise in their rates.
Many small businesses have said higher rates could potentially cripple them, with a bleak outlook for the high street more businesses be could be forced to close down or go offer online trading only.
Neil Kendall, from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) West Yorkshire, said: “We have long believed that business rates are an outdated, unfair and regressive tax in need of fundamental reform.
“Business rates are not based on the firm’s size or ability to pay, and the recent revaluation has made this situation worse for many small firms.
“Businesses set to lose small business rate relief will be helped by the cap of £50 per month set on any increase.
“Although these are major wins which protect many small firms from the current business rate changes, the extent of the loss faced by some small businesses has created an unacceptable situation.”
In his Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a relief package fund for local councils to provide “discretionary relief” to hard-pressed firms facing steep rate rises.
A raft of other measures and caps were announced, aimed at softening the blow of rate rises for small firms.
Kirklees Council cabinet member Graham Turner said that the outlook for firms in the region is positive thanks to the discretionary fund.
He said: “We think we are looking at an average reduction of roughly seven per cent across Kirklees. It was apparent for some years that businesses were paying too much in relation to the ones down south and this was happening for far too long. “Obviously this reduction is a good piece of news for local businesses.” Across in Calderdale, councillor Barry Collins, deputy leader of Calderdale Council, said: “We recognise the importance of a thriving economy and continue to do all we can to support local businesses.
“Businesses in Calderdale which have a rateable value of £6,000 or less are already entitled to small business rate relief, and from April this will be extended so that businesses with a rateable value of less than £12,000 don’t have to pay business rates.
“Although the national business rate revaluation has resulted in less than half of Calderdale businesses seeing an increase in the amount they will have to pay, we will still be using the relief schemes announced recently by the Chancellor.
“This means that, for businesses facing large increases in their bills due to the loss of small business or rural rate relief following the revaluation, their increase will be capped at £600.”
The outlook for firms in the Wakefield region is also positive according to council chiefs.
David Dagger, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services at Wakefield Council, said: “The introduction of the new system for business rates by the government means that in the Wakefield district, overall businesses will pay a little less than before.”
It seems the discretionary relief fund is certainly going to make a difference to businesses in West Yorkshire, but it is going to help them thrive in the long-term or simply survive?
Mr Kendall believes the system is in urgent need of a revamp. He added: “The £300million discretionary relief fund for local authorities to target those businesses most in need is very welcome.
“But it is only a short-term fix.
“What small businesses need for the medium and long-term is a replacement business tax system that is simpler, modern and linked fairly to the ability to pay.”