Government announce Business Rates’ review – again

It seems that Government business reviews are a bit like buses – yep, nothing for ages and then you can't open your inbox without finding another request from Whitehall asking for your opinion.

My fingers had hardly recovered from typing out my response to the Business Rates Avoidance Review when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander "announced" today (16 March) a wide-ranging review of national business rates – apparently the largest in a generation.

The review, set to report back by Budget 2016, will examine the structure of the current system which is paid annually on 1.8 million properties in England. The Chief Secretary launched the review during a speech to local businesses in Cambridge and he went on to say that the Government wanted to ensure this "important tax" was fair, efficient and effective.

To be fair the Government did announce back in December that it was going to conduct a review of business rates so this latest update is the same message repeated – the same bus service but tannoyed twice, so to speak.

But it also gave the Government a nice pre-election platform to shout about its rates' relief packages to help small businesses – a coincidence I'm sure.

As part of Alexander's speech the Treasury has also published the discussion paper outlining the following questions for the review:

1. What, in your view, does this evidence suggest about the fairness and sustainability of business rates as a tax based on property values?

2. What evidence is there in favour of the government considering a move away from a property based business tax towards alternative tax bases? What are the potential drawbacks of such a move?

3. How do you suggest business rates could take into account the individual circumstances of businesses such as their size or ability to pay rates?

4. What evidence and data can you provide to inform the government's assessment of the trends in use and occupation of non-domestic property?

5. Is there evidence to suggest that changing patterns in property usage are affecting some sectors more than others?

6. What examples from other jurisdictions and tax systems should the government consider as part of this review? What do you think are the main lessons for the business rates system in England?

7. How can government use business rates to improve the incentive for local authorities to drive local growth?

8. What impact will increased local retention of business rate revenue have on business growth? What will the impacts be on local authorities?

9. What other local incentives should the government consider to further incentivise business growth?

10. Should business rates be reformed to make them more closely reflective of wider economic conditions and if so, how?

11. How does the proportion of total operating costs accounted for by business rates vary by the sector and size of a business?

12. What is the impact of the business rates system on the competitiveness of UK businesses? Are there any particular impacts on SMEs?

13. How could the government better target support for SMEs given that the size of a company may not be reflected in the rateable value of a property it uses?

14. Should investment in plant and machinery, energy efficiency improvements or other similar property improvements be treated differently by the business rates system? If so what changes could be made?

15. What evidence and analysis should the government take into account when evaluating the impact of and any changes to the range of reliefs and exemptions present in the business rates system?

You have until Friday June 12, 2015, to get your responses in but judging by the amount of questions listed here as a starter for 15, I think I better started drafting now.

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