The Bookseller is calling on readers, authors, agents, publishers along with the general public to sign a petition urging the government to give bookshops the same business rate discount as pubs.
The Booksellers Association (BA) launched the petition this week as part of Independent Bookshop Week. It has so far garnered over 1,200 signatures.
Currently pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 are offered £1,000 off their rate bill. Now the Booksellers Association (BA) is calling for the same relief to be afforded to bricks-and-mortar bookshops, arguing they deserve it because they have a community and cultural value on the high street.
With more than 60% of indies subject to the business rate tax, the trade body predicts the measure could "make a huge difference" to more than 500 independent bookshops in the UK.
While many retailers have backed the petition, organisers the BA along with The Bookseller are now calling on readers, publishers, authors and agents to sign the appeal, which could help brick and mortar bookshops with “crippling” business rate bills.
Nigel Roby, owner and chief executive of The Bookseller, said: “It cannot be right that the rates structure penalises small local bookshops over giant, global corporations selling online. The BA's proposal is a sensible, achievable way of at least partially redressing this gross imbalance.
"This concession could help more bookshops to continue and just may provide the extra incentive for a new shop to open. The cost to government is minuscule, but the benefit to high streets, struggling with closures, could be significant. What would legislators prefer, yet another betting shop on the high street or a bookshop that supports the community?"
Writing to publishers on Wednesday (20th June), BA chairman Tim Godfray said signing the petition would take “less than a minute but, for us, will mean a great deal”.
“Operating a physical business in the high street these days presents enormous challenges,” Godfray said. “You not only have to work out ways of how best to compete effectively against online, but you also then have to meet these annual business rates charges. Some of the increases our members have had to face are staggering (e.g. Tales on Moon Lane in London – from £60 pm to a staggering £700pm.)
“Moreover, business rates were created before the arrival of the internet retailers, giving the latter a very considerable competitive advantage over the physical businesses. Many retailers and restaurants that are household names are currently struggling and all are up in arms over business rates.”
The BA has long been campaigning for reform of the tax. Last year, the association warned that 275 towns could be deprived of a bookshop unless something is done about the outdated charge, which Godfray has slammed as “not fit for purpose and should be fundamentally overhauled.”
Current comments on the petition include from Mrs M Oldham, who said: “My bookshop in North Ayrshire - the last remaining independent bookshop in the entire county - was hit with a £5,500 annual increase in business rates on 1 April 2017 and I was forced to close the shop and teashop to the public. Since then I have faced the daily threat of unemployment, homelessness and bankruptcy, and a listed building is now in danger of dereliction. This is madness caused by governments and politicians who all claim to support small businesses and our high street, to protect our heritage and to promote literacy whilst doing absolutely nothing in reality to support such claims.”
Meanwhile, Lindsey Woollard of Firelight Books said: “All of us at Fairlight Books agree that bookshops are cultural assets and should be treated as such. An exemption could make all the difference, signing this petition is a great way to show your support!”
The campaign was officially launched in the House of Commons earlier this month.