We do not hold figures for the average bill paid by an individual business for national non-domestic rates in 1997-98 and in more recent years. However, for 1997-98, the figure derived from dividing the net rate yield from local authorities’ rating lists by the number of hereditaments on the local list as at 31 December of the previous year is £6,796, and for 2008-09 the equivalent figure is £11,274. That reflects changes in the retail prices index and the NNDR tax base due to increased economic prosperity.
I thank the Minister for that well researched reply. Fully a third of businesses that are eligible for small business rate relief are not claiming it, according to the Government’s own figures. What will she do either to simplify the system or to make it automatic?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s figures are out of date. Recent figures suggest that 92 per cent. of the relief is being claimed.
May I ask the Minister to look yet again at how empty property tax works at the moment? I have a lot of constituents who have converted agricultural property into workshops, in line with Government policy, and now find it completely impossible to get business tenants despite their best endeavours. They end up with a financial millstone around their neck for following Government policy. Will she look again at the operation of the tax?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but if the rateable value of such property is less than £18,000, it should not attract empty property rate relief—or should I have said that it should not attract tax? I will be happy to unscramble that answer by meeting him privately.
I think the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will need that unscrambled. The hon. Lady’s boss, the Secretary of State, recently said that in his opinion, companies will be helped by his business rates revaluation, but the Government are killing community shops across London with a business rates revaluation that will raise business rates by more than half a billion pounds over the next few years. That will affect the shops that we all—particularly elderly and low-income families—rely on: the newsagents, the launderettes and the convenience stores. Why does the future of those London jobs, businesses and communities matter so little to the Secretary of State?
Once again, the figures are being exaggerated. Sixty per cent. of businesses will not see any rise in their business rates.