Join the fight to save our high street

Stock photo - Lancaster shopping streets / August 2013
Stock photo - Lancaster shopping streets / August 2013
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The Lancaster Guardiantoday demands that the Government launches a complete overhaul of the business ratings system, an outdated formula which is crippling our High Streets.

The Lancaster Guardian is joining forces with hundreds of Johnston Press titles as well as the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) to demand that business rates are frozen immediately and an urgent review of the system is conducted.

Shop Local.

Shop Local.

We are asking you the reader to sign our online petition which urges the Government to think again about an unfair tax which has been increased by nearly £700m in the past three years, leaving traders with the highest property tax bills in Europe. Westminster’s Business Innovation and Rates Committee has looked at the issue of business rates and reported its findings in March, describing the business rates system as not fit for purpose and in need of reform.

The committee called for a wholesale review including whether retail taxes should be based on sales rather than the rateable value of a property; whether retail needs its own system of business taxation; and how frequently revaluations should take place. In the interim, the committee called for a six months business rates amnesty for businesses occupying empty properties. The Government had undertaken to review rates and was due to carry out a revaluation in 2015 but this has been put back to 2017 and beyond, and it has made no serious or firm commitment to a fundamental review of this damaging tax.

Today the Lancaster Guardian is calling for readers to get behind our Shop Local campaign, which calls upon the Government to do the right things for our small, independent traders.

Editor Nicola Adam said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our high street and they need help more than ever before. Rates must be frozen immediately.”

Ashley Highfield, CEO of Johnston Press which owns the Guardian, said: “Supporting communities – and the small businesses within those communities – is at the heart of what we do. We pride ourselves on the long-standing relationships we have in so many cities, towns, villages and hamlets where we are the trusted provider of local news and information services.

“We support any initiative aimed at ensuring a healthy future for the small businesses so important to local audiences.”

The campaign has received the backing of the British Independent Retailers Association which is currently lobbying Government and politicians from other parties in a bid to make the process fairer.

A spokesman for bira said: “Business rates were designed for the retail world of 1990, but they need to work for the realities of today and be made fit for 2020.

“Shops in towns pay several times per square foot what other ratepayers pay in other locations and the disadvantage is hampering small shops in their fight for survival.”

He added: “This needs to be put right permanently, not tinkered with as the government has done with a series of short-term measures designed to stifle calls for fundamental, long-term change.”

The Government says that it delayed the review of the business rates as a review next year would have caused an estimated 800,000 businesses to “miss out”.

Penny Mordaunt, the High Street minister, said: “Looking forward, our business rates review will look at improving the longer-term administration involved in the rates so the system is simple, fair and predictable for ratepayers.”