Editor: Tax Day was sadly a Groundhog Day in terms of business rates reform. Delaying the government’s consultation on reform until autumn 2021, the fourth delay in a year, had been disappointing, but everyone hoped Tax Day (23 March) would provide some new insights.
It wasn’t all negative. It was heartening to see the industry agree that the current system should continue, but in a reformed way. Overall rates bills need to be lower and the multiplier (UBR) cut to a percentage more palatable than the current 51p in the pound.
We agreed reliefs should be reformed, preventing business rates deserts. Empty rates relief should be addressed and plant and machinery clauses reformed. There should be more frequent revaluations, the removal of transitional reliefs and an overhaul of the Check, Challenge and Appeal system.
We didn’t agree with everything, such as introducing other taxes to reduce the overall business rates burden, particularly on the merits of an online sales tax — something we at Colliers support, provided it is ringfenced purely to reduce retailers’ business rates.
Reassuringly, nearly everyone agreed that replacing business rates with capital value tax would be disastrous. Let’s hope that gets kicked into the long grass.
So, all good? It would be if the government implemented this. The list of recommendations is no different to what I and my fellow professionals have been saying through numerous reviews for years. Why is any action delayed until the autumn?
Latest figures from Local Data Company reveal that more than 17,500 chain outlets disappeared last year, the worst decline on record. Nearly 190,000 retail jobs have been lost. The business rates burden — for many, due to return in July — will be a factor in whether businesses survive.
So, come on Mr Chancellor. Please stop dillydallying. Introduce fundamental business rates reform now. The country really can’t wait any longer.
John Webber, head of business rates, Colliers International