The Government’s response to the Mary Portas Review does give hope for the high street but it will not help businesses cope with record-high business rate bills and any reforms will therefore come too late for many.
The Portas Review, originally published in December last year , is an independent review into the future of Britain’s high streets. It contained a number of ideas from retail guru Mary Portas to help ailing high streets where vacancy rates have continued to rise.
Following the Review, The Government agreed to provide extra support for pubs and funding for Business Improvement Districts in its official response made last week.
However, several of Portas’ key recommendations have not been accepted by the Government – one of which is a change in the way business rates are calculated from using the retail price index to the consumer price index.
The initial recommendations on business rates made in the Mary Portas Review include:
- Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the Retail Price Index with a view to changing the calculation to Consumer Price Index.
- Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses.
- Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers.
“Business owners continue to lose out from a business rates system that fails to support enterprise,” said Don Baker, national head of rating at business rates specialist CVS. “These reforms announced today will not help the majority of high street businesses cope with the record high business rates bills they are being asked to pay, and will be too late for many.
“We have too many firms in the UK struggling to keep their heads above water. What we really need from Government are steps to rebalance the rates system into line with current economic conditions, improve the speed of the business rates appeals system, and offer real help to landlords of empty properties by reforming the empty property rates tax.
“Only by making these changes will the government offer genuine support to businesses struggling with their rates bills, and help them get through a difficult time.”
The Forum of Private Business’ head of campaigns, Jane Bennett, added: “While it’s refreshing to see the Government has embraced the spirit of the Portas Review and clearly understands the importance of the British high street, we feel that it hasn’t nearly gone far enough
“The issues of parking and business rates are absolutely crucial to the future success of the high street and the small, independent retailers who ply their trade there.”
Meanwhile, the Government has invited localities to bid to become one of 12 ‘Portas Pilots’ – which will each receive up to £100,000 to develop their town’s economy. Town’s from across the country have got their applications in ahead of today’s deadline.