Plans to change business rates that will see massive rises for Sevenoaks and Swanley shops and other small businesses while going easy on off-shore multi-national internet giants have been slammed by the Liberal Democrats.
I have been talking to local small businesses about this revaluation, and the feedback I am getting is that many are extremely worried. Against a backdrop of increased rents and fierce competition from online retailers, many shops and small businesses are being punished by the Conservative government simply for committing to the economic life of their neighbourhoods.
Why should a local sandwich shop or café face a hike that could threaten its entire business, yet Amazon’s giant warehouses enjoy a tax cut?
If that were not galling enough, local firms have to pay increased business rates for improvements they make to properties that in many cases they don’t even own. Even the Conservatives should admit that this cannot be fair. It is time they held their hand up, admitted they have got this all wrong, and start again.
Vince Cable is chairing a commission for the Liberal Democrats to come up with a fair and effective system. The sad thing is that this was avoidable, but the Conservatives shelved a proposal from the Liberal Democrats during the last coalition government to reform the system.
Small business owners are already reeling from the Conservative Brexit government’s decision to go for a hard Brexit and take us out of the Single Market. Now they are being asked to pick up the tab while the government let big international business off the hook. This is yet another example of a Conservative Government that has lost any right to call itself ‘the Party of Business’.
Among the issues discussed by me at a meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) at the 2015 General Election was reform of the current business rates system, a matter of major concern for many hard-pressed constituents.
I fully agreed with the FSB that business rates urgently need a radical overhaul and much greater simplification, especially as some businesses in the area are paying more in rates than rent, causing great hardship, and for some to wind up their companies, leading to increased unemployment.
Prompter payment of invoices and outstanding bills would provide a further lifeline, and needs more effective enforcement. Also improved access to credit from leading banks and other lenders would be welcome.
However, any reforms will realistically take five years to take full effect, equivalent to the life of this parliament and beyond, so some temporary relief would also be welcome for many firms.