The Government have taken significant steps to help small retailers, including doubling the level of small business rates relief for a further year until March 2014. This will benefit 500,000 small and medium-sized businesses.
I am grateful for that answer. Business rates for shops are a particular concern for small shops in my constituency. Has my hon. Friend’s Department carried out any analysis to ascertain how many local authorities are using the powers provided in the Localism Act 2011 to give discretionary rate relief to small businesses? If not, what can be done to encourage them to use them more extensively?
We are collecting that information right now, and we will present it to the House shortly. What I can say is that we have given new powers to councils to be able to provide further business rate discounts, and also the flexibility to be able to use them when and where they think is best. I would strongly encourage councils, whether they be in my hon. Friend’s constituency or elsewhere, to use those powers so they can better help their high streets.
Small shops in Crediton, an important market town in my constituency, suffered greatly under the last Government’s planning guidelines, which pushed up car parking charges in the centre of town and pushed away trade. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that, under our planning guidelines, car parking charges will be pushed downwards, not up?
We have scrapped Labour’s red tape so that councils can be far more flexible about the way in which car parking charges and associated rules work. That will enable more people to be attracted into excellent towns such as Crediton in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Again, I urge councils to be more innovative in how they manage to make their charges for parking. I have seen a number of instances where simple changes can make a real difference to our local high streets.
No, I do not agree. As I have said to the British Property Federation on several occasions, we looked very carefully at the valuation office evidence that was presented to us. What it showed was that for every three businesses that might gain, eight could lose—including, potentially, a loss of £100 million to retailing in London. That is why we have taken what I think is the correct decision to defer that revaluation until 2017.
Undoubtedly, business rates can be a burden on many small shops, but has the Minister had any discussion with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions because, as a result of the freezing of the benefits uprating at 1%, £6 billion will be taken out of local economies the length and breadth of this country? That will hit small shops hardest, will it not?
Disposable income is very important—the hon. Gentleman is right—which is why I am proud that our Government are unlike the Labour party, which doubled council tax bills during its term in office. That hits the disposable pound, and it is a shame that the Labour party did not understand that while in government.