Trade body calls for rates help for smaller businesses as budget looms

Businesses are looking to Wednesday's budget to see what help there may be for firms hit by rates increases this year.

The Forum of Private Business chief executive Ian Cass said: "The increased Business Rates burden will be the death knell for many, and we are looking for the Chancellor to bring in measures to help those faced by the biggest increases, and for a better rapid appeals process to be introduced.

"Small businesses are a critical part of our overall economy and we would also like to see the government lead a wider discussion on the future of Britain’s high streets and include this as part of their industrial strategy."

Business secretary Sajid Javid said it would be revealed at the budget whether the current £3.6bn fund for transitional relief would be increased.

Javid said the rates revaluation would see three-quarters of all businesses pay the same amount or less than before: "I am also acutely aware of the impact on the quarter that will see increases. If your rates are going up, it’s no consolation to hear that others’ will be going down. I’ve long recognised the need to provide support."

Garden centres could be hit hard by rates hikes,  The revaluation of businesses will have a varying impact on garden centres with larger retailers paying considerably more. The bigger centres could see an increase of up to 50% in the base figure of their main building following the revaluation in April, says Quinton Edwards.

The business rates changes "threaten to increase the digital divide between online retailers and bricks-and-mortar shops, says Ben Boswell, UK & Ireland director of World Wide Technology

He said retailers such as Amazon, whose warehouses are far from urban centres, will benefit from business rate reductions, while urban shops such as those in London could face rises of up to 42%.

Boswell added: "There’s been a long campaign over the proposed changes to business rates, but what’s clear is that many fear the precariousness of their store-based profits. There have been some interesting attempts to bring the offline store up to date, such as Morrisons’ latest deal with Amazon. But the impact of technology such as IoT-based innovations can give a whole new purpose to the bricks-and-mortar store.

"For instance, retailers are finding that even the most ‘digitally-savvy’ of millennials are willing to engage with store employees if it delivers a better experience. Technology which identifies regular customers as they walk through the door gives retail employees the chance to personalise their service based on past purchasing decisions, adding value to the offline experience.

"Applying technology to the offline store must not become a vanity exercise. Retailers must look to identify real use cases that deliver measurable business value, as they seek to make their offline stores more sustainable into the future."

* The Government will launch a wide-ranging reform of technical education during the Budget, which will see the current 13,000 separate qualifications replaced with "15 world-class routes" better suited to business needs. The £500 million a year investment from 2019 is also aimed at boosting Britain’s productivity levels, and will see the amount of training for 16-19 year old teenagers on technical routes increase by more than 50% to over 900 hours a year.

State pensions are due to rise 2.5% in April, while income tax personal allowance will rise £500 to £11,500 for the 2017-18 tax year. And National Insurance payments will move from 12% NI on all your earnings as an employee above £155 a week (or £8,060 a year) until your earnings reach £827 a week (£43,004), after which it drops to 2% to, from 6 April from £157 a week (£8,164 a year) and will run through to £866 a week (£45,032). 

Rising petrol prices – about 120p compared with 102p this time last year – makes hikes to fuel duty unlikely.


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