Revaluation of business rates delayed 'to protect Tory areas'

Minister says government has delayed revaluation until 2017 to protect businesses from 'volatility'

High street campaigners have accused the government of delaying a revaluation of business rates because it would hit Conservative heartlands before the election in 2015.

The comments came after Brandon Lewis, the local government minister responsible for high streets, on Tuesday repeatedly batted away suggestions from members of the Commons business, innovation and skills committee that the government should look at urgently updating the property tax to help small shopkeepers. He said the government had delayed plans for a 2015 revaluation of rates until 2017 to protect businesses from "volatility". Information from the Valuation Office Agency suggested London offices would be the big beneficiaries of a change, not struggling shopkeepers.

But Paul Turner Mitchell, a Rochdale shopkeeper who has used Freedom of Information requests to gather data on business rates, said: "It's a political decision. A lot of Conservative-held regions in the south would have seen their rateable value go up just months before a general election if the revaluation had gone through."

He questioned the veracity of the VOA data and said that London offices would actually have paid more as a result of a revaluation for 2015 while retailers outside the capital would be paying at least 20% less. "Lewis's maths don't add up. The VOA has completely undervalued how property prices in retail have deflated outside London."

A fellow high street campaigner Bill Grimsey told the committee: "The only beneficiaries from this delay are big retailers while small ones in the north of England are suffering." Research issued by his team of experts this week suggested Britain's four biggest supermarkets would save £1.3bn as a result of the two-year delay to a revaluation, while independent retailers' rents were kept artificially high.

Grimsey, the former Iceland boss who recently reported on the state of the high street, called on the government to carry out a complete review of the business rates system rather than relying on research being carried out by accountants Ernst & Young for the British Retail Consortium. He said the industry body was influenced by its "biggest paymaster", Tesco, and not best placed to look after the interests of independent retailers.


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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