Budget 2014: Little rates relief for retailers

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Despite rising calls from across the property and retail sectors, there was hardly any mention of business rates in this year's Budget, although there was some light relief for businesses in enterprise zones.

Experts in rating and retail in the North West were vocal with their views:

Paul Easton, head of rating at ES Group, said: ''The Chancellor didn't disappoint the business rates profession today. We expected nothing significant in the 2014 Budget and that's what he delivered, nothing significant! The Chancellor announced an extension to the Business Rates relief in enterprise zones for a further three years. The regret is that Government just don't get it and have missed another opportunity to redeem themselves with the majority of UK business ratepayers.

"Business rates for most are going to be higher than they should be because Government postponed the next revaluation from 2015 to 2017. Rates bills after 2015 will continue to be based on 2008 rents before in many cases they then fell off the end of a cliff. If the revaluation had gone ahead in 2015, as statute laid out, then business rates bills would be based on 2013 rents which would reflect what is happening in the real world.

"You can see the point can't you? I just wish Government would!''

Simon Binns, Heart of Manchester BID Manager: "The measures announced in the Budget may not have an obvious impact on retailers, but what is encouraging is the expansion of apprenticeship grants to support smaller businesses and 100,000 apprentices. Manchester has a strong retail sector which is also a large employer in the city centre, so this could be good news for smaller retailers looking to employ staff and help their businesses grow. What we would like to have seen is more detail for retailers on business rate initiatives. Rates are often the biggest expense faced by small retailers and we would have welcomed an earlier review of business rates than those planned for 2017."

Robert Brown, head of rating services at chartered surveyors Sanderson Weatherall, said: "It was already known that the Chancellor had provided a minor fillip for UK retailers by knocking £1,000 off their rates bills and limiting the uniform business rates increase to 2%, but this is really just nibbling at the edges of the problem.

"Eighteen months ago the coalition government controversially postponed the intended 2015 Rating Revaluation planned from a time when it was most needed, until 2017. The result has been that northern ratepayers continue to heavily subsidise London and the south of England, where media reports now regularly report a rapid economic recovery. The cranes have returned to the London skyline, but one must ask what help is there for the north?

"Why the government continues to prevaricate on business rates when urgent steps are both needed and could easily be taken is a modern mystery.

"We advocate a new look at methods of valuation applied to high street shops to put them on a level playing field with pubs and petrol filling stations, where fair maintainable trade and petrol throughput become determining factors towards the level of assessment."

Michele Steel, head of Deloitte Real Estate in the North West: "The Chancellor announced that the business rates incentives flowing from the new round of enterprise zones will be extended for a further three years. These incentives are capped at €200,000 in any three year period under the EU de-minimis state aid rules for any business. These are only available to businesses moving into EZs before the end of this Parliament.

"The effects will be modest for all but the smallest businesses. The greatest beneficiary will be the local councils who presumably will be able to retain all the business rates growth from the EZs for three years more than the 25 years announced in 2011."

Adam Burke, director of rating at the North West office of real estate advisors Colliers International in Manchester: "The retail sector will be pleased with the OBR's revised growth predictions and the tackling of the budget deficit; coupled with the predicted rise in real wages. In addition, the boost to savings that the Chancellor announced through ISAs and pension reforms should feed through to an increase in consumer spending.

"Disappointingly, the measures that the Chancellor used to address the rating issue didn't go far enough in tackling a rating system crying out for reform. Cutting £1,000 from retailers' rates bills is a drop in the ocean. What would have really benefitted retailers would have been an immediate Rating Revaluation and a commitment to overhaul how business rates are calculated."

Richard Wackett, head of business rates at Lambert Smith Hampton in Manchester: "The Chancellor announced that this is a budget for 'makers, doers and savers', but what about commercial property landlords, developers and occupiers?

"George Osborne's decision to extend the business rate discounts for companies in enterprise zones is a welcome move but it isn't enough to help the wider commercial property market. Tinkering around the edges will have little impact on the supply constraints that are acting as a drag on economic growth.

"A combination of full empty rate charges and the failure to revalue has unfairly affected those sectors of the economy that most need help. In addition, the 100% charge to owners of empty commercial and industrial buildings has left the most buoyant sectors without high quality, grade A accommodation. Businesses have been forced to make do with poorer second hand stock, which is slowing the economic recovery and pushing up rents.

"As the UK takes steps towards a full financial recovery, the Chancellor should have done more to address underlying issues in the interests of growth. It's another missed opportunity."

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