High profile names add pressure over business rates

By Stuart Hicks, Director.

Calls are getting louder in the retail sector for the government to take urgent measures to soften the blow of business rates.

High profile owner of Frasers Group Mike Ashley has written to Boris Johnson directly calling for the UK government to reform the “crippling” business rates system and its “disastrous” consequences for jobs. The letter is also signed off by Frasers Group chief financial officer Chris Wootton.

It stated: “We.. wish to raise directly with you the critical issue of business rates again. I am sure that you will be aware that our nation’s high streets are in a worsening crisis, this is not new news. As you know Frasers Group has long petitioned the government to change the business rates environment, which we believe is raising unfair and uneconomic revenue from businesses. In doing so, we believe that the exchequer is putting the jobs of a significant percentage of the UK workforce at risk.”

It goes on to state that millions of people rely on the high street for their livelihoods and that delaying urgently needed reform wasn’t in the interests of the government, business, or the public generally.

“In our opinion,” it continued: “the consequences of failing to act right now will be disastrous, Even as we write highly successful retailers such as John Lewis are significantly scaling back on their high street presence, and Marks & Spencer, a stalwart of the UK high street, have just announced 7,000 redundancies, if that does not make you sit up and take notice we are not sure what will. Other businesses are entering insolvency from which they cannot feasibly return due to the crippling impact of business rates. Without change these businesses will simply disappear.”

They sign off asking for a face to face meeting with Boris – good luck with that when even the national exam debacle didn’t get him to cancel his jollies to the Highlands. This letter also comes on the back of more business rate bad news for the high street with Debenhams appealing a 12% rise in business rates against one of its stores in Swansea – taking its bill for this one outlet to £1.1m. Lingerie specialist Ann Summers is also considering a CVA after suffering increased losses in its latest reported year. Chief executive Jacqueline Gold said with business rates set to resume next Spring, the future was looking bleak.

Whilst we all wait for the autumn review into business rates it is useful to have big name interventions that keep business rates front of mind for Rishi and Boris; but no one can expect any breakthroughs until the review has at least gone through the motions, no matter how high profile the letter writer is.