Freeze business rates or face more empty shops, say retailers

A group of retailers are calling on the Government to freeze business rates ahead of September's RPI inflation figure announcement.

In a letter to the Financial Times, 14 retail leaders, including chief executives of members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), call for the Government to keep business rates as they are during 2013.

Business rates are currently linked to the RPI rate of inflation, which has seen them increase by 4.6 per cent in 2011 and 5.6 per cent in 2012. September's RPI figure is used to set the rates for the following year, but this could add as much as £200 million to the retail sector's bills in 2013.

According to the letter, the retail sector pays the largest share of business rates (28 per cent of the total), and a further rise 'would deal a blow to retailers' ability to invest in stores and create jobs, especially in these tough trading conditions'.

The knock could have a direct impact on unemployment figures, particularly for young people, the BRC claims, saying: "That would mean more empty shops on high streets and fewer employment opportunities, especially for young people."

In addition to a freeze, the letter also calls for a review of the mechanism currently used to set rates, saying: "We urge the Government to recognise that retail has already given more than its fair share to the Exchequer and to freeze business rates in 2013. It should also act on its commitment to review the mechanism by which rates are increased, to ensure a fairer and more sustainable formula for the future."