Retailers call for business rates reform ahead of General Election

As campaigning continues in the lead up to the General Election, retailers are wanting to have their voices heard, with calls for further reforms to business rates.

Following a drop in visitor numbers in May, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) trade body has called on the government to rethink business rates and planning laws to revive high streets and shopping centres.

Shoppers going to high streets, shopping centres and retail parks fell by 3.6% in May, with shopping centres hardest hit. All three retail destinations saw a drop in footfall with poor weather and the continued shift to working from home for at least part of the week being blamed.

Chief executive of the BRC Helen Dickinson said: “With an election only weeks away, political parties have a role to play by having policies that mean retailers can invest in rejuvenating shopping destinations across the UK.

“A broken business rates system and outdated planning laws are holding back the industry – politicians of all stripes must address these issues. This will boost economic growth, lift consumer spirits, and help drive more shoppers back to our high streets and other retail destinations.”

Retailers are still hopeful that better weather and major sporting events such as the Olympics and the Euros will encourage shoppers to return to the high street, added Dickinson.

Diane Wehrle, from Rendle Intelligence and Insights, said poor weather will have played a part in reduced visitor numbers but the major factor was an “underlying structural shift” away from physical shops as well as consumers trying to save money to counteract hikes in essentials such as food and energy bills.

She also noted that the shift to working from home had helped some smaller towns but led to quieter periods in cities, particularly on Mondays and Fridays.

Labour has already said it will replace business rates with a business property taxation regime as part of its five-point plan to revive high streets. Conservatives have held several consultations on business rates during their time in power, with some changes implemented and rate relief schemes introduced.