// £1 billion Future High Streets Fund is not enough to offset the business rates crisis, says Colliers
// Ratings experts welcome initiative but doubt its impact without proper business rates reform
// PM Boris Johnson recently said £1 billion Future High Streets Fund will expand to 50 more towns
A major property firm has warned that extending the pot of cash available to struggling high streets to more towns won’t be enough to offset the business rates crisis.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would increase the £675 million Future High Streets Fund to £1 billion, in a bid to use the extra money to reshape or regenerate 50 more towns around the UK.
While rating experts at property agency and consultancy firm Colliers International cautiously welcomed the move, they warned that business rates still needed to be “properly reformed”.
“Colliers believe it won’t get to the heart of the problem and in itself is not enough to counter the impact of the 2017 business rates revaluation and introduction of downward phasing,” the firm said in a statement.
On Monday, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced an additional £325 million to the Future High Street Fund, taking the overall size of the fund to £1 billion.
Under the new initiative, towns such as Harlow, Barrow, Blackpool, Scarborough and Dudley will join 50 areas already shortlisted to develop plans to reinvent their high streets.
The fund will be allocated to towns to improve transport and access to town centres, convert empty retail units into new homes and workplaces and invest in infrastructure.
“All very good, but it just simply won’t go far enough and certainly won’t help retailers struggling with their current rate bills,” Colliers head of business rates John Webber said.
Webber added that £1 billion between 100 towns is £10 million each town, which each local authority will decide how to spend.
He also highlighted that there is “no coherent strategy” on how it should be spent, how businesses can bid or claim for support, nor any details on using the money to tackle the business rates crisis.
Meanwhile, discussions and then implementation about any town centre redevelopment could take months as retailers continue to pay high rate bills on their properties because of both downwards transition and a too-high multiplier.
“It would be much better to get to the heart of the problem immediately,” Webber said.
“And to use the money to remove downwards transition and reduce the multiplier now.”
He added: “I hate to say it but without that, retailers in many of these towns will stay under threat, stores will be closed and jobs lost, despite all the fancy and well-meaning government plans.”