The Government continue to support small businesses to access the finance they need to grow through the British Business Bank, which supports almost £3.4 billion of finance to 54,000 smaller business. In the autumn statement, I announced an additional £400 million of funding for the bank. We also reaffirmed our commitment to the business tax road map, including the permanent doubling of the small business rates relief and the extension of the thresholds for the relief, so that 600,000 small businesses—occupiers of one third of all business properties—will pay no rates at all.
Federation of Small Businesses research says that over a third of small businesses expect their business rates to increase from 1 April. Small shops will be hit hard, while large supermarkets are set to gain. In Hounslow, the estimated 12% increase has led worried businesses to tell me that they expect to see jobs and investment cuts. The Chancellor would not want his fiscal decisions adversely to impact on growth and prosperity, so will he now commit to righting this wrong in his Budget? Will he also support Labour’s five-point plan to help small businesses through the revaluation?
I think the last thing small businesses need is any help from the Labour party. From what I have seen of Labour’s plans, that would be the final straw for most of them.
As we have said, we recognise that some small businesses are facing very substantial percentage increases, even where the actual amounts might not be very large, and that that can be difficult for businesses to absorb. We have committed to coming forward with a proposal that will address those who are hardest hit by that phenomenon.
In Stow-on-the-Wold in my constituency, the actual business rates payable by Tesco, which is five minutes’ walk from the centre, is £220 per square metre, whereas a delicatessen in the centre of the town will pay £500 per square metre. Does not my right hon. Friend think that the system of rating valuation needs to be re-examined?
The rating system is what it is; it reflects the rental value of properties. I readily acknowledge that in an economy that is changing shape rapidly, where the digital economy plays a much larger role and where some of the biggest businesses are not based on bricks and mortar, there are some very significant challenges for us, which we need to look at. In the short and medium term, business rates play a vital role in providing revenue to the Exchequer—and from 2020, of course, they will be used wholly to support local authorities.
I will say something more about the medium and longer-term challenges to business rates when I deliver my Budget next week. The hon. Lady would not want to alarm anybody in her constituency and she will know that nobody will see their rates bill go up by 600%.
I welcome the Chancellor’s promise to explain more about what he is going to do about business rates in the Budget next week. Does he recognise, however, that in taxing our towns and villages around the UK, especially the beautiful ones in west Kent, he is in danger of changing the culture that is at the heart of our community, not just raising money for the Exchequer?
What I cannot do is look again at the business rates revaluation, which is an independent statutory exercise undertaken by the Valuation Office Agency. As the hon. Lady will know, if experience is anything to go by, of the 2 million business properties revalued, about 1 million will lodge appeals, so there will be a process of reviewing the way in which the valuations have been conducted. I have said I will look at those small businesses facing the largest increases and see how best to help them.
I strongly welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to look again at small business rates taxation in the Budget. The big four supermarkets are being given, on average, a 6.9% cut in their business rates. Will the Chancellor consider setting that rate at zero so that it is becomes “upward only”, and using the extra money to soften the blow for smaller businesses?
I do not think that that is the right way to proceed. The business rates revaluation reflects the underlying value of premises, and I am afraid it is an inconvenient fact that some large organisations have premises in low-value areas and some small organisations have premises in very high-value areas.
The Chancellor was right to talk about access to finance, but most small businesses depend on lending from safe high street banks. What discussions has he had with the banks to ensure that they remain safe and continue to fund small businesses so that they can benefit from the other fiscal measures?
Different high street banks have different models, but it is certain that some high street banks are aggressively pursuing small and medium-sized enterprises. When I say “aggressively pursuing”, I mean actively seeking their business. However, it is also important for us to diversify the range of financing options that are available to small and medium-sized enterprises, which is one of the reasons why we have pushed money, through the British Business Bank, towards other intermediaries that can provide equity and debt finance for SMEs.
The other part of my question was about the banks staying safe, which is vital to small businesses and the whole economy. The Chancellor will have observed the worrying signals from the United States that the new President intends to roll back some of the regulation that was introduced to make banks safer. Will the Chancellor assure us that he does not intend to play follow my leader and deregulate the banks unnecessarily in this country?
Our banking system in the United Kingdom ensures that our banks are safe, and is tackling the “too big to fail” culture. We have a high level of confidence in our banking system. The reserve ratios of our banks are improving consistently, and we do not want to do anything that would undermine them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to join my former team today to discuss this important issue.
As we have heard, the FSB has found that more than a third of small businesses will see an significant increase in business rates, whereas the big four supermarkets may see a 5.9% reduction. Crucially, more than 55% of those small businesses plan to reduce, postpone or cancel further investment. If the Chancellor is serious about productivity, will he tell us what additional transitional relief he will provide for businesses that are facing a cliff edge?
The hon. Lady is only repeating what I have already acknowledged. Many very small businesses will see big increases because they are coming out of small business rates relief and facing the full rates regime for the first time. We understand the stress that they will experience at that point, and we will be considering how best to deal with those that are worst affected by the phenomenon.