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Business Rates

Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

This Government are clear that helping small shops and businesses grow is a crucial part of rebalancing and rebuilding the economy.

We have already taken action through the business rates system to support that aim.

We have doubled small business rate relief for one year. That measure is currently saving approximately half a million businesses £390 million in taxes, with over a third of a million ratepayers paying no rates at all for a year.

We are also waiving £175 million of backdated business rates demands levied on businesses, including some in ports. Thanks to that action many companies across the country will now be able to move forward confidently, unburdened by these unexpected debts. We will bring forward the necessary legislation to achieve that through the Localism Bill.

The Localism Bill will also simplify the process for claiming small business rate relief and give local authorities powers to provide business rates discounts which may be used, for example, to provide targeted support for local services or to help kick start regeneration schemes.

In addition, our proposals to enable councils to retain locally-raised business rates and deliver tax increment finance for local authorities will be taken forward through the local government resource review.

We fully appreciate the problems caused by the previous Government’s reforms of empty property rates. We have therefore given careful consideration to empty property rates and the inflation linked (based on the September 2010 rate of RPI) increase for next year’s bills.

Our ability to take action on those matters needs to be balanced against the targeted support that we have already provided on business rates, the high costs involved—we estimate it would cost £400 million to continue with the temporary empty property rates measure—and the overriding need to reduce public expenditure and support the economy generally by reducing the deficit.

Unfortunately, taking those matters into consideration, any further help in the short term is currently unaffordable.

The empty property rates threshold will therefore revert to £2,600 from 1 April. The provisional small business non-domestic multiplier will be 42.6 p and the provisional non-domestic multiplier—which includes the supplement to fund small business rate relief—will be 43.3 p.

However, while we have no immediate plans to reverse the reforms, we will keep this under review and we want to work constructively with the property industry on this inherited problem.

We are determined to continue providing the support that businesses need.