MPs voted this week to reject proposals to allow councils to extend Sunday trading hours in England and Wales for larger retailers.
In a statement, the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) said it ‘welcomed’ the clarity provided by the vote and stressed ‘the urgency of the need to move on’.
Bira said: ‘With the failure of the government’s ill-thought-out devolution proposals for Sunday Trading relaxation, the road is now clear for the real reform that will help the High Street every day of the week. The chancellor announced a ‘full review of the structure of business rates’ 15 months ago but has yet to outline, let alone deliver, the changes that are needed.’
The Association, which represents small shops across the UK, is calling for urgent action in next week’s Budget on two issues: the reinstatement of the £1,500 discount on rates for smaller retail properties (which was not renewed in the December announcement) and ‘a definitive statement on business rate reform – exactly what and precisely when’. It said the lost discount ‘will hit small retailers hard – and as soon as April – unless the Chancellor has a change of heart and reinstates it on March 16’.
Bira explained: ‘Small shops will have to turn over nearly a billion pounds extra this year just to earn the profits to pay increased rates bills. In 2015 small shop turnover fell by more than a billion, according to official figures, so this is going to be more than challenging.
‘Reform of the rates system is long overdue for a tax widely regarded as outdated and damaging, to town centre retail in particular and bricks and mortar retail in general.
‘Last year bira put forward 10 point plan to make the tax fit for purpose, sweeping away a thicket of reliefs and discounts. It would transform rates into a progressive tax by creating a new property equivalent of the personal allowance to apply to premises, above which rates would apply, based on a single ‘multiplier’.
‘At a stroke, this would take small shops permanently out of paying rates – something that most commentators agree is necessary and which a series of temporary reliefs has tried to achieve. Removing indexation based on RPI (no longer a national statistic) and increasing the rate of revaluations to make the tax responsive to economic realities, are among other proposals.’
Bira ceo Alan Hawkins commented: “The government said that the aim of devolving control of trading hours was designed to help the High Street. The messy solution that was proposed has now been cleared out of the way, but the government has an opportunity in next week’s Budget to put right a short term error – reinstating the £1,500 discount – and to announce long term reform that will make a difference to the High Street each and every day in the future.”
The bira reform proposals can be downloaded at: www.bira.co.uk/assets/download/2981