Mary Portas slams Government for abandoning small retailers

Last week I spoke about how the current review of the business rates appeal system was skewed against the small business owner. It seems small retailers are also facing another financial onslaught.

Former High Street Tsar Mary Portas has never been afraid of airing an opinion and this week she accused the Government of hitting small shop owners once more in the latest announcements on Business Rates.

The Government will be clawing back around £400 million from high street retailers – a move pounced on by Portas and the influential Bill Grimsey, who has written some of the best insights on retail and business rates I have seen in a long while.

Portas told The Mail on Sunday: “It seems Government isn’t really serious about getting behind the small businesses on our high streets. I really am very frustrated. With some big businesses paying pitiful taxes, how about supporting the people who impact on our real life communities? – the small shops, pubs and cafes on our high streets and in our towns need a break.”

Grimsey, former head of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY didn’t mince his words either saying: ‘It is like banging your head against a brick wall. This is a signal from the Chancellor that says: “We don’t really care about town centres and smaller retail businesses and we’ll sneak this £417million under the radar”. There is no interest in small retail businesses surviving or what might happen to town centres. The Government is burying the subject.”

And what provoked such a backlash? – Osborne’s failure to extend a measure to provide business rate relief to 278,000 small shops. This was originally unveiled in 2013 after the original Portas review on the plight of town centres. Her appointment by the Government back then made national headlines but her latest comments will be less of a pleasant read for the Tories.

The Treasury – which did extend wider small business relief – has confirmed that it will be down to local councils to continue with discretionary powers to “provide relief to retailers facing particular difficulties”.

The tax relief which has been scrapped excluded big stores and those on flourishing high streets. It meant small stores in hard hit areas saved £1,000 in the year to March 2015 and £1,500 in the current financial year – a not  insignificant sum to small retailers.

If local authorities all continue the tax relief or put something similar in its place then hand-wringing will have been over nothing, but it would be a very brave pundit who would put money on it.


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