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Norfolk councillors urge high streets minister Brandon Lewis to review business rates system

12:33 06 February 2014

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis. Picture: James Bass.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis. Picture: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Norfolk county councillors are urging the minister for high streets Brandon Lewis to make business rates fairer for small firms.

Bev Spratt.Photo: Steve AdamsBev Spratt.Photo: Steve Adams

A letter has been sent to the Great Yarmouth MP persuading him to review the system after a number of Norfolk businesses expressed their frustrations during a business rates summit held at County Hall last month.

The summit was called by Norfolk County Council’s Environment, Transport & Development Overview and Scrutiny Panel to hear the views on the current business rates regime.

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Bev Spratt, panel chairman and Norfolk County Council for the West Depwade Division, said: “Businesses accept they should contribute to funding local services, but there were strong feelings among many delegates that business rates need reform. The current system has not adapted to the new patterns of consumer spending with strong growth in online shopping and out of town retail parks.

“I have warned the minister that there is a deep sense of injustice about the way in which internet and out of town retailers pay so much less than town centre businesses in terms of turnover and profit,” said Mr Spratt. “We also heard an allegations that some businesses classify their premises as ‘workshops’ to reduce their liability, while businesses such as day nurseries face higher Business Rates because of the space they are legally required to provide for their children.”

Delegates at the meeting included portfolio holders and officers from district councils, representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, Norwich Business Improvement District, the Valuation Office Agency and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as the owners of a number of small businesses

In the letter, Mr Spratt writes: “I accept that a root and branch review cannot be delivered in the immediate future, there would seem to be a number of issues around how the current system is operated that should be relatively straightforward to address.

“Overall, there is a clear need to ensure that the business rates regime in the 21st century offers adequate incentives to small and medium-sized enterprises on the High Street as their profits are more likely to be invested back into the local community. “In Norfolk and elsewhere, such enterprises enrich the rural economy, play a crucial role in preserving the character of market towns as historic and cultural centres, and function as a catalyst to local tourism.”

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