March 14 2014 Latest news:
Ben Woods, Business writer
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Norwich’s crucial city centre economy is being held back by the burden of high business rates that are stifling recruitment and preventing firms expanding.
That is the view of the leader of the Norwich Lanes Association ahead of a key meeting spearheaded by Norfolk county councillors to better understand how the controversial tax is affecting the region’s companies, shopping districts and market towns.
Jayne Raffles – chairman of the organisation that supports the city’s independent shopping quarter – has expressed her concerns amid mounting calls from business leaders, locally and nationally, to address the cost of business rates, which are seen to be disproportionately high compared to the rent on commercial properties.
Her call to action has been echoed by Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, who believes a rate reduction could create more cash for the government, as it would inspire entrepreneurs to launch businesses that would pay into the taxman’s coffers.
Mrs Raffles, who welcomed the business rates summit being held at County Hall on Tuesday January 14 at 10am, said: “High business rates are stopping our businesses from growing, or even thinking about moving to bigger premises. People simply will not expand if they think that the rates are too high.”
Currently, the business rate level is set by the chancellor George Osborne, who announced a raft of new measures in his autumn statement to ease the tax pain on businesses. These included plans to offer small firms a £1,000 discount on their rates, a cap on future rate increases at 2pc, and a reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants in a property that has been empty for a year or more.
However, local authorities do have the power to offer further help to firms through business rates discounts.
Mr Gurney added: “In April 2014, the average business rates bill in Norwich will increase by £440. This is certainly disproportionate compared to the rent, and can affect firms with real business potential. If the government and local authorities get it right there could be even more business rates paid – and more business growth.”
Companies are being urged to attend the business rates summit, which is a special session of the county council’s environment, transport and development overview and scrutiny panel.
Bev Spratt, panel chairman and councillor of the West Depwade division, said: “Many businesses, especially smaller ones, have struggled over the last five years after the credit crunch and during the recession.
“Keeping costs low has been critical, but during that time business rates have risen by over 22pc. It’s not surprising that it’s become a big issue for business, especially for shops who are facing increasing competition from online shopping.
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