We have doubled the level of small business rate relief to 100% and made it permanent. This means that around 600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all. At Budget, we also announced a £300 million discretionary fund so that councils can provide additional support to businesses facing increased bills.
York’s economy is being damaged by sharp business rate increases due to the revaluations. While the exemption from paying the full business rates has risen from £12,000 to £15,000, business rate increases have rocketed far beyond that in York. This is totally unfair, and small businesses in the city, previously exempt, are now desperate. Some are facing a 600% increase in their rateable value, including The Slip Inn, and no one knows how the new relief funds will even be distributed—total chaos! Can the Secretary of State say why the business rate burden is falling harder on smaller businesses and if he will urgently review the exemption level?
Overall, businesses in the north have seen on average a fall through the revaluation process.
What about York?
The hon. Lady talks about York. Since 2010 York has had a 74% fall in unemployment. That is because York has a Conservative-led council working with a Conservative Government. If the Labour party gets its anti-business agenda and hikes up taxes on businesses throughout the country, we know what the result will be.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many Labour-controlled councils are still pursuing anti-car policies? Will he remind them of recommendation 9 of the Mary Portas retail review, which stated that free and available but controlled parking should be made available to high street shoppers?
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a very good point about anti-car policies coming from Labour councils. Where councils have worked with businesses and taken a pro-car policy, especially on parking, that has helped local businesses, and Labour can learn a lesson from that.
Given the great concern expressed by small businesses up and down the country about their ability to pay the business rate rises, I am going to give the Secretary of State another chance. What reassurance can he give small business owners who are concerned about the impact of rate rises that they will not be paying higher rates over the next few years than online and large retailers such as Sports Direct?
I can tell the hon. Lady two things. First, I point her to the package my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced at the Budget: £435 million of additional help for small businesses with rates, including the £300 million discretionary fund, for which there will be absolutely no delay because of the general election. It is going ahead exactly as planned. Indeed, the Government have already confirmed the final allocations for all local authorities, and local authorities are free to start using that scheme and helping local businesses.
Secondly, I point the hon. Lady to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Budget speech. He said that
“in the medium term…we have to find a better way of taxing the digital part of the economy—the part that does not use bricks and mortar”—[Official Report, 8 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 812.],
and that we also need to look at the frequency of the revaluation process.
Many small businesses in Bury will see a fall in their business rates as a result of the revaluation, but because of phasing it will be some years before they receive the full benefit. Will my right hon. Friend look again at what can be done to speed up the introduction so that they can feel the full benefit sooner?
We have also put in place the transitional relief scheme, which is worth more than £3 billion and will help businesses across the country, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That will certainly speed up the introduction.
During the last Communities and Local Government questions, I asked the Secretary of State to engage with me and with councillors on Belfast City Council to determine how best we could grow business there through a city deal. He kindly agreed to do this, but sadly events have overtaken our arrangements. Given the commitment that he has made to spreading city deals throughout the devolved regions, will he assure us that he would like to see that theme continuing in the Department for Communities and Local Government?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman before Parliament is prorogued.