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Business Rates

Volume 594: debated on Monday 16 March 2015

6. What steps his Department has taken to support local firms and shops with payment of business rates since May 2010. (908052)

We have taken significant steps, including doubling small business rate relief, benefiting 600,000 businesses with 400,000 paying nothing; increasing retail relief to £1,500 for the forthcoming financial year; and giving councils powers to grant discounts, with central Government funding half the costs. Today, we also launched the business rates review—paving the way to modernising the system.

Business rates collected in Redditch are up by tens of thousands of pounds. Although we would all like to see business rates lowered, is that fact not further proof that, across Britain, our towns’ economies are benefiting under this Government’s long-term economic plan?

My hon. Friend is right that our town centres and high streets are enjoying a resurgence. Last year’s report by Southampton university showed that our high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas since 2013. I congratulate both Redditch traders on their achievements and my hon. Friend on her support of them. I sincerely hope that those traders will consider entering the great British high street competition this year, which we launched last week.

Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that the criteria for the recently announced review of business rates will include the fact that there will not be a single penny’s reduction in funding to local councils as a result of that review?

I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are not in the business of giving rate relief to penalise other sectors, whether it is the business sector or the public sector. The relief that I have just outlined has been funded by central Government. We have not been penalising business. The hon. Gentleman can make submissions to the review, but I have to tell him that the review has been welcomed by business.

Businesses of all sizes will welcome today’s reports that there will be, as the Minister has just said, a review of the way in which business rates are calculated. Given that, may I urge her and her colleagues to rebalance the costs between small high street shops and large online retailers? I hope she agrees that it is time to re-tip that balance.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Despite being seen as the death knell of the high street, online retailers have helped to bring about a resurgence on the high street. Some 35% of all online sales are now picked up through click and collect. We have just published the Future High Streets Forum’s digital report, which outlines not only ways that big business and companies such as Google, IBM and others can assist the high street, but why it is in their interests to do so.

19. I am sure that the Chair of the Conservative party can remember when, as Minister with responsibility for local government, he promised a high street revolution. Does the Minister think that, given that the number of empty units on our high street is rising—on some high streets, up to 25% of units are empty—we are talking about a revolution or just a flat failure? (908067)

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. As well as the Southampton university report, which showed that high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas on groceries, clothing and footwear since 2013, there is last year’s Deloitte study, which showed that re-occupancy rates are much higher on the high street than they are out of town.