Osborne bows to business rates campaign

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London.
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Chancellor George Osborne has bowed to the demands of the Lancashire Evening Post and its sister papers after he promised to launch a review of business rates.

So far more than 5,000 readers have signed the petition, both in this newspaper and online, in a bid to convince our leading politicians that business rates need to be overhauled now, rather than wait for a review in more than two years’ time.

We have also called for business rates to be frozen while this review is conducted.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Mr Osborne was to review the business rates system, in a bid to help High Street shops compete with internet retailers.

He made the announcement in his eagerly-anticipated autumn statement, which outlines the Government’s strategy for tackling the economy.

Business leaders have long argued that the rates system is unfair – automatically increasing each year regardless of how a company is faring.​

Ashley Highfield, the chief executive of our owner Johnston Press, said: “We very much welcome the decision today to review the business rates paid in the high street.

“There’s a long way still to go but this is definitely a step in the right direction and we remain committed to supporting small business across the country and helping to safeguard their future. We want to thank all those who signed our petition and played their part in getting this on the Chancellor’s agenda.”

He added: “As local media owners we have a duty to businesses – and the communities they serve – to ensure this remains on the news agenda if change is to happen and urge everyone to not only sign the petition but to shop locally too.

“These are the sorts of issues which are going to be of critical importance in the run up to the elections next year – and decision makers need to start listening.”

Our campaign has received praise from many quarters.

Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The ratchet effect built into the current system sees many businesses paying rates that far exceed their rent and only ever increase, no matter how the economy is doing.”

A spokesman for our campaign partners, the British Independent Retailers Association, said: “The petition campaign is building momentum strongly and its combination of local engagement and national importance is unique.”

We have been asking readers to sign our petition, which urges the Government to think again about an unfair tax which has been increased by nearly £700m in the past three years, leaving traders with the highest property tax bills in Europe.

Our campaign has captured the imagination of people from all over the country including Conrad Carter, of Preston, who said: “As a business owner I feel I have enough pressure in keeping up with running costs without the added pressure of business rates.

“It’s a constant worry that if business is bad, you still have to find funds in order to cover what I feel are unnecessary costs.

“I feel the government should try and help all businesses, but especially independent business as we are vital to the economy.”

Business rates were due to rise by another 2.3 per cent next April – an increase set by the rate of RPI inflation in September.

In his autummn statement, Mr Osborne capped the business rates increase at two per cent next year.

And he increased rates discount to help our high street shops, pubs and cafes by 50 per cent to £1,500.

Mr Osborne also announced VAT refunds for hospices and air ambulances – a major boost to several North West organisations.

The Chancellor also confirmed the Government planned to set up a “sovereign wealth fund” for the north of England to keep the benefits of any shale gas exploration.

Gas exploration company Cuadrilla has applied to drill at two sites in Lancashire. For more on this story, see tomorrow’s paper.

• To sign our business rates petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-launch-an-
immediate-review-of-the-business-rates-system-in-england-freezing-rates-in-the-interim