Booksellers have appealed directly to politicians to reform business rates or risk 275 towns losing bookshops at a parliamentary reception in the House of Commons on Wednesday (12th July).
Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray told an audience of MPs at the reception hosted by Labour’s Margaret Hodge that a quarter of high street bookshops are facing a hike in business rates of 10% or more. He urged action to be taken before as many as 275 towns are deprived of a valued bookshop.
“The Business Rates issue is something we cannot ignore,” he told guests in the Members Dining Room in the Houses of Parliament.
“Put simply, if something isn’t done, booksellers will be put out of business. Twenty-five per cent of high street bookshops are facing a business rates increase of 10% or more. If even half of those bookshops were to close as a direct result of rates’ increases, then 275 towns could be deprived of a bookshop, and schools, libraries and children in those towns would be deprived of support (for reading). The Business Rates system is not fit for purpose and should be fundamentally overhauled.”
The figures derive from a BA survey of members undertaken in March this year.
Guests were shown a new video produced by the BA at the event entitled “Support Bookshops and a Reading Nation”, showcasing the important work done by booksellers in the community, through personalised recommendations to inspiring children to read through author events in schools.
As part of the film, this year’s Children’s Bookseller of the Year winner at the British Book Awards, Tamara Macfarlane from Tales on Moon Lane bookshop in London’s Herne Hill, spoke of the impact rising business rates have had on her business.
“As we are talking, our business rates have increased from £60 a month to £300 a month and will be going on up to £700 a month if they are not revaluated,” she said. “This has immediately meant that we have had to cut staff hours we vitally need in order to go out and do the community work we’ve been doing.”
Business rates shot up for many retailers in April after new business rates were brought in based on 2015 rental values of commercial properties instead of 2008 values. Hundreds of retailers have been “crippled” by the rise.
In February, Tim Walker, owner of Walkers Bookshops said: “We have been selling books since 1972 and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such unprecedented rises in costs [that] I have no control over.” His two premises, in Oakham (East Midlands) and Stamford (Lincolnshire), had to tackle business rates rises of a third and 50% respectively.
In London, manager Ben Hillwood-Harris at Artwords, which has shops in Shoreditch and London Fields, revealed that its rates were “nearly doubling”, while Denise Jones, director of Brick Lane Bookshop in east London, said she was bracing herself for a three-fold hike. Jones said her shop had been pushed outside the bracket for tax relief by gentrification in the area driving up property prices.
Meanwhile Brett Wolstencroft, manager at Daunt Books, told The Bookseller the mini-chain felt “trapped” by the situation, and was steeling itself for a 100% rise in rateable value of its Marylebone shop; in effect, a rise of £50,000 annually. “This will have a huge impact and businesses can’t sustain it. We are trapped. Bookshops, more than other businesses, can’t just look at other premises,” he said.
The BA film also featured Natasha Radford from Chicken and Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Sanchita Basu de Sarkar and Themba Mkhiza of The Children’s Book Shop in Muswell Hill, and Sandeep Mahal, director of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
In the video, Mkhiza of The Children’s Book Shop said: “The magic of the bookshop is finding the right book for you. You won’t get that on the internet, you’ll only get that from someone who actually loves reading and who really cares about books. The internet just doesn’t- it’s a machine.”
While Mahal stressed bookshops' role in helping to build a "nation of readers" which she said in turn serves the creative economy. "t’s absolutely crucial that bookshops survive, that libraries survive and that we are joining up the reading universe," she said. "Children need those skills to fulfil their future potential.”
Along with the BA, the event was co-hosted by the Publishers Association (PA) and World Book Day. Along with Godfray, speeches were given by PA chief executive Stephen Lotinga, Hodge and children’s author and illustrator Liz Pichon.