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Business Rates

Volume 579: debated on Monday 7 April 2014

10. What steps he is taking to help shops in England and South Basildon and East Thurrock with their business rate bills. (903548)

We are providing a £1 billion business rates support package. This includes a £1,000 discount for smaller shops, pubs and restaurants, and a 50% discount for businesses taking on long-term empty shops. It also doubles small business rate relief for another year, helping more than 500,000 small businesses.

I very much welcome the Government’s attempts to ease the plight of those shopkeepers and high street businesses, but does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that rather than promote the availability of this scheme when sending out business rate bills, Enfield’s Labour council felt it wise to spend its time issuing press releases, trying to claim credit for the Government’s very welcome policy?

I suppose that is a kind of halfway house, which is a bit of shame because about 2,000 businesses in Enfield should benefit from the scheme. Clearly, if those businesses are not aware of the possibility and do not apply, they are shelling out money unnecessarily, and the people who will suffer will be the people of Enfield.

I, too, welcome the support the Government are giving to small shopping centres such as Corringham in my constituency, which has set up an excellent traders and residents association to help develop local trade. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now that local authorities have some control over local business rates, they can be much more innovative in the way they support small town centres?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One reason why it will be possible for more money to go into small shopping centres is the excellent campaign that my hon. Friend has successfully won, after a four-year struggle, for the Visteon pensioners. The whole House is grateful to him for the work that he has done there. We estimate that within South Basildon and East Thurrock, something in the region of 1,500 businesses will benefit from this support. It is a very welcome boost, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is making the point.

I am not sure how similar Wirral is to Basildon and Enfield, but I bet that our small businesses have all suffered similarly over the past three years. Will the Secretary of State therefore go further and properly tackle the burden of business rates, as Labour would?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to say this. Labour’s policy has been described as robbing Peter to pay Paul. It has been attacked by the Institute of Directors, which says that the main corporation tax rate is paid by medium-sized businesses. As the hon. Lady is concerned about SMEs, she should not forget that the “M” stands for medium-sized businesses. The institute says that it is a dangerous move for Labour to risk our business-friendly environment in such a way.

Business rates are an important part of encouraging and maintaining shops. One problem is where town centres, such as Runcorn in my constituency, need to be reconfigured. The borough council needs extra resources to be able to do that. What are the Government doing to help local authorities reconfigure town centres and therefore to promote more shops?

As my hon. Friend the Planning Minister has reminded me, we are in the middle of a consultation to help with regard to the designation of certain planning use classes. If the hon. Gentleman wants to invite his council to make a contribution to that, it would be most welcome.

19. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how many businesses in Chelmsford will benefit from this rate reduction? Does he agree that it is a significant step forward in helping to regenerate businesses, cut unemployment by expanding the work force and encourage small businesses to thrive? (903559)

I reflect that truly the lamb will lie down with the lion, Mr Speaker.

About 800 businesses will potentially benefit from the change, which will make a significant difference to employment prospects. My right hon. Friend’s constituency, which borders on mine, is an excellent place to go to shop and this will help that process along.

There is no more innovative local authority than Manchester city council, as I am sure the Secretary of State will agree. As the MP for a city centre with many small businesses, I find that this is the single biggest issue raised with me. Business rates have gone up by more than £1,500 over this Parliament and are set to go up a further £270 this year. Would it not be much better if the Secretary of State were to freeze business rates for small businesses, as the Labour party has pledged to? That will help them stay in business, which many of them are unable to do at the moment.

It was always a matter of regret to me that Labour made rate relief very hard to claim for small businesses, but we have managed to remove some of the complex nature of the claims process. With enormous respect, I remind the hon. Lady that this package for the high street is worth more than £1 billion —and £1 billion, even in today’s money, is a lot of money.

My “block the bookies” campaign in Peterborough, in which I encouraged Peterborough city council to use article 4 to prevent the proliferation of pawnshops and licensed premises used as betting shops, has been very well received. What support will Ministers give local authorities across the country to support independent retailers and prevent the proliferation of even more unwanted betting shops?

Article 4 has been remarkably successful in both protecting local pubs and regulating unwanted additional shops on the high street. I remind my hon. Friend that in the Budget the Chancellor announced that we will review use class and issue a consultation in the not-too-distant future. I hope that my hon. Friend will contribute to that consultation.