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CAMPAIGN: Traders Rob Taylor, Andrea Mellon, Margaret Mason, Ian MacMillan, Sue Winstanley, and Jamie Hanson

CAMPAIGN: Traders Rob Taylor, Andrea Mellon, Margaret Mason, Ian MacMillan, Sue Winstanley, and Jamie Hanson

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Six-figure business rates are crippling city centre stores, say traders.

Sign our petition to stop rates crippling British business – as Chancellor George Osborne decides what measures to inlude in his Autumn Statement.​​

The Lancashire Evening Post today demands that the Government launches a complete overhaul of business rates – an outdated system which is crippling our high streets.

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

The Chancellor has dropped strong hints that the Government will include measures to provide some relief on the rates burden in his December 3 statement.

The retail industry is pressing the Chancellor to ​​extend the £1.1bn discount on business rates he announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

Business rates are due to rise by another 2.3 per cent next April – an increase set by the rate of RPI inflation in September – but the British Retail Consortium want George Osborne to cap this increase at ​two per cent.

Today we are 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. The British Chambers of Commerce are also lobbying Government to give businesses a break as they struggle to emerge from the recession.

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “British companies now pay the highest business rates in Europe which has a huge impact on investment, and ultimately jobs and growth too.

“We are calling on the next government to commit to a thorough review of the system and freeze rates for all businesses until 2017 when a full review is due to take place.

“UK firms face massive business property tax bills, and the current system is at odds with the government’s ambition to have one of the most competitive tax systems in the G20.

“​The government should abandon up-rating of business rates until the 2017 revaluation, with HM Treasury working with all three devolved governments to ensure the freeze is UK-wide.”

The Lancashire Evening Post’s “empty shops” survey earlier this year highlighted that there were still more than 100 empty shops in the heart of Preston city centre.

But the fightback has begun – with Preston’s largest shopping centre looking to ​a​ttract more independent businesses to the city.

Plans are being drawn up by St George’s Shopping Centre to create a dedicated “Independent Avenue” within the centre accessed at its Lune Street entrance.

​The centre ​ is​​ offering flexible deals, trial periods and free marketing support.

High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt said the Government’s decision to delay the rates review until 2017 was of benefit to hundreds of thousands of businesses.

Rob Taylor, who runs 4mat Digital in Friargate, said the system ought to be fairer. It should be based on a business’s profits.

Mr Taylor said the sums being asked of the big stores were staggering.

He said: “People may say ‘Well the big stores can afford it.’ But at the end of the day what are they getting for all that money?”

Mr Taylor said he was hopeful that the Chancellor would take some steps in his Autumn Statement.

“Our rates are such that we have to do a lot of business before we cover that,” he said.

Florist Margaret Mason, of Frairgate, said: “I wish the Government would open their eyes and see things as they are.

“Independent shops are vital to the economy and all we are asking from the Government is a little help.”

​​Jessica Jackson, joint owner of The Dancers Wardrobe in Lune Street, said recently she could only dream of moving into a prime site on nearby Fishergate.

“I’ve looked on the high street and considered moving, but I could never afford the rates. Fishergate is out of my league.”

Go to http://tiny.cc/skgwox to sign the petition.

How charge is calculated

The annual business rates bill is calculated and collected by ​each local council.

The council multipl​ies the rateable value set by the V​aluation Office Agency with a multiplier set by central government.

The current rateable values of a property were set in April 2010 – and increase in line with inflation every year.

The amount a business ​currently ​has to pay – the multiplier – is 48.2 per cent of its rateable value.

Here are some of the hefty bills in the PR1 postcode area according to figures from the Government’s Valuations Office Agency:

Debenhams, Fishergate Centre, £925,000 (£445,850 payable)

Marks and Spencer, Fishergate, £830,000 (£400,060)​​

BHS, Fishergate, £525,000 (£253,050)

Boots, Fishergate, £487,500 (£234,975)

TK Maxx, Fishergate Centre, £262,500 (£126,525).