// PM Boris Johnson urged to suspend all business rates bills amid coronavirus pandemic
// Some of the UK’s biggest retailers signed a letter outlining two phases of critical action the government should follow
// The letter’s signatories include Arcadia, Frasers Group, New Look, WHSmith, JD Sports, Superdry, Dixons Carphone, Ted Baker & H&M
Some of the UK’s biggest retailers have come together in a rare moment of unity to urge Boris Johnson to suspend all business rates bills during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter – sent by Moss Bros this afternoon and signed by the Retailers Rates Action Group, and seen by Retail Gazette – the Prime Minister is urged to introduce a new package of temporary measures to help retailers survive the economic impact of Covid-19 as it moves to its most serious stage.
The Retailers Rates Action Group consists of Moss Bros, Topshop parent company Arcadia Group, House of Fraser and Sports Direct parent company Frasers Group, as well as New Look, Primark, WHSmith, JD Sports, Superdry, Card Factory, Dixons Carphone, Ted Baker, Holland & Barratt, Iceland, Gap, Poundland, River Island, H&M Group, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group and many more.
- H&M the latest to call for rent holiday as coronavirus crisis deepens
- Coronavirus: Debenhams calls for rent holiday to handle disruption
- Budget 2020: Business rates for small retailers abolished for 1 year
The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers and businesses across London’s West End, also backed the letter.
While the action group welcomed last week’s Budget announcement of a “fundamental review” into the business rates system, it highlighted that the one-year business rates holiday for commercial premises with a rateable value of under £51,000 was helpful for smaller retailers only.
“As we try to deal with impact of the coronavirus, it was extremely disappointing that, yet again, the largest ratepayers in the retail sector have been ignored in the Budget,” the letter reads.
“Despite your positive actions, the Budget proposals are insufficient to support the whole retail sector, both in the short term whilst we battle our way through the coronavirus pandemic, and in the long term, as we see significant structural changes within our sector.”
The Retailers Rates Action Group also highlighted how footfall and turnover has declined by up to 50 per cent in many towns and shopping centres as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It said that under the current business rates system, the retailers’ rateable values still assume they are trading in the “much more prosperous market” of April 2015.
“It is quite clear that this is an unreasonable and punitive method of taxation, especially when the additional over inflation caused by downwards transition is factored in, compounded further by the pandemic,” the letter reads.
The retailers went on to urge the government to take measures in the form of two phases to support retailers now, otherwise they risk collapse.
The first phase is to immediately suspend all business rates bills – not just for small retailers as per last week’s Budget announcement – until normal trading resumes.
The letter goes on to request the government to instruct all local authorities to consider premises as being empty – should the UK end up in lockdown as a result of the pandemic – and as such, have no rating liability until they reopen.
The second phase pertains to when the pandemic is under control and businesses begin to return to normal, with the government urged to continue to support the retail sector by removing downwards transition, moving to annual revaluations and lowering the uniform business rate.
“This will allow many retailers to look to grow and improve their stores, rather than being forced to continue with further closures,” the letter reads.
“Notwithstanding the immediate situation, retailers need to see their rates liabilities reduced urgently to a fairer level, or more businesses will fail, as they have done with alarming frequency over the last two years.
“This will of course be to the further detriment of our high streets and shopping centres.
“The current system is not fit for purpose, and is without question, one of the key reasons why the UK retail sector has declined so considerably in recent years.”
The letter also highlighted how many other governments in mainland Europe, including the French, German and Dutch, have already stated they would take all measures to ensure no business fails because of the pandemic.
“We hope the British Government will also do the same,” the action group said.