We set out the likely effects in an impact assessment alongside the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill last year, with a further assessment alongside the regulations in February. They showed that we expect an increased rate of re-letting of commercial property and a reduction in the business rents as a result.
There are many multi-storey Victorian mills in my constituency with unlettable upper floors, basements and outhouses. Some of those mills are listed buildings in a poor state that are home to scores of small businesses. What support can local authorities give from today to help the owners of those mills to stay in business, thus protecting thousands of jobs?
If they are empty and listed, those buildings are exempt from business rates. The crucial question is whether they are capable of beneficial occupation; in other words, are they rentable? If my hon. Friend and his constituents feel that those properties are not rentable, he should apply to the Valuation Office Agency, which will undertake an assessment and, if appropriate, provide the relevant relief or exemption.
Is the Minister aware that the Government’s proposals are going to cause big problems for small businesses? One such business in Kettering contacted me and said:
“We have purchased two new offices in Kettering. Unfortunately, with the economy slowing down they have remained empty since December. In future, I will not buy any new property until I have a secured tenant signed up. This means that there will be a lot less investment in Kettering.”
What kind of message is that to the business community up and down the country?
When the cost of empty property relief has stood at £1.3 billion, it is no longer easy to justify offering that tax relief for buildings that sit empty, when they are subsidised by other taxpayers. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about business rents and the prospects for business, I suggest that he consult the Federation of Small Businesses. The FSB recognised in its submission to Lyons that such reform could bring down rents for business, because it would increase the incentives to re-let, sell or redevelop property that would otherwise remain empty.