The Booksellers Association has called for delays in financial support to bookshops to be addressed "urgently" after it has emerged many small businesses are still waiting for help with soaring business rates.
The Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged special measures in the March Budget to help the most vulnerable companies survive the hikes to the business rates - a tax on non-residential properties based on what could be charged in annual rents (rateable value). However according to the BBC the help has not come through as promised.
Giles Clifton, head of Corporate Affairs at the BA, told The Bookseller: “The BA was pleased when the government signalled its clear intent to cap rate rises in the Budget in March. This policy must now take effect. Delays, of whatever nature, simply must be overcome and prompt reductions seen.
“The BA has welcomed some positive steps put forward by the government in fixing a broken business rates system that is a drag on innovation and the UK’s High Streets. This delays needs to be sorted urgently, and a full review of the business rates system put in place. The next government must put in place a system for the 21st century that does not concede such an inbuilt advantage to online against offline or large against small. Within this context the commitment given in the budget this year to review the Digital Economy during the next parliament is vital."
He added: “Ensuring a fair market in the book trade remains a top priority for the BA. Business rates remain an important part of this. We will continue to work for this in the next parliament.”
Thousands of small businesses in England who were promised financial help to ease the burden of hikes in business rates are still waiting for the help to come through, reported the BBC. One local authority, Canterbury Council, said one reason of the delay is that it was working to update its system to enable new bills to be sent out, while others have said they are awaiting further guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Another cause for the delays is that the local authorities have no guarantee they will receive the money back from Whitehall, the BBC reported, so are awaiting this commitment.
The Booksellers Association warned that the increased business rates, which kicked in last month, could “absolutely cripple” booksellers’ businesses. Following a two-year delay by the government, the revaluated rates meant properties were valued based on their 2015 rental values rather than their 2008 values. Some businesses were reported to have seen a rate increase of up to 3,000%. Hammond promised to mitigate the blow so that firms losing small business rate relief - a discount given to companies with properties below a certain rateable value - would not see their bills rise by more than £50 a month. The government pledged £25m to support this.
Many booksellers blasted the rise when it was proposed including author Jeanette Winterson who said it could “wipe out small businesses”. Businesses in London and the south-east have born the brunt of the increases, with rates soaring because the rentable value of properties in those areas have increased, where in places such as northern towns like Blackpool, they have dropped.
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