Booksellers Association president Nic Bottomley yesterday (Tuesday 12th June) urged parliamentarians to support its representations to government to give "heroic" bookshops the same business rate exemptions as pubs in recognition of their community value.
Launching the campaign, Bottomley spoke at a World Book Day reception at the House of Commons to argue that whilst bookshops bring vitality to the high street as wealth and jobs creators and cultural assets, business rates pose a burden for far too many. He referenced a statistic shared last year that unless inequities in the business rates system are addressed, 275 towns in the UK could lose their bookshops.
Bookshops can be "heroic", he told the room, if they are inclusive and environmentally responsible, and through the contribution bookshops make to Britain's economy and the cultural life of the community.
"Bookshops are cultural assets. They launch and build the careers of authors, they champion reading for pleasure, and they bring vitality to the high street at a time the high street is under constant threat. Every high street is rich if it has got a bookshop," said Bottomley.
And yet he highlighted there is a “massive disparity” in what sums are paid in business rates, pointing to one example in which a branch of Waterstones in Bedford paid 60 times as much as the Amazon distribution centre in the same town.
“This isn’t sustainable. Intellectually, morally, or for the bookshops involved,” said Bottomley.
He continued: “As a first step and as a matter of urgency we would ask for a business rates exemption for bookshops. Business rates dispensation has been given to pubs in recognition of their community value; the government legislated to make it mandatory for local authorities to give a £1,000 discount on their business rates bill for every pub under the rates calculator level of £100,000.
“Booksellers bring both community value and cultural value to their towns, at a heroic level. And they should be given the same exception. I urge all Parliamentarians to support our representation that we should be given the same business rates concessions as our pubs.”
Other speakers at the event included HarperCollins chief Charlie Redmayne, speaking in his capacity as the Publishers Association’s new president of the membership body's goal to confront “literacy cold spots”. Lastly World Book Day ambassador Cressida Cowell reflected on the successes of WBD in spite of “the Beast from the East” that saw many schools close for the day; this year it doubled the number of books distributed in prisons and gained support from the prime minister for its three-year nationwide campaign encouraging parents to read with their children for 10 minutes a day.
Former culture ministers Margaret Hodge and Ed Vaizey, as well as fellow MPs Tulip Siddiq, Don Foster, Mark Pritchard, Stephen Crabb and Barry Sheerman, were among those joining booksellers, publishers, authors and illustrators at the packed reception.