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“Queen of Shops” Mary Portas says business rate hike will “cripple” independent retailers

PUBLISHED: 08:47 17 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:12 17 February 2017

File photo of Mary Portas, who has joined business leaders protesting the government's planned increases to business rates. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

File photo of Mary Portas, who has joined business leaders protesting the government's planned increases to business rates. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Britain’s “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas has warned the government that a planned rise in business rates would force a third of independent retailers out of business.

The retail expert, who advised David Cameron on saving Britain’s high streets, said the controversial reevaluation would be the worst hit to shops since the financial crash in 2008.

She has joined the ranks of business figures – including brewer Greene King and other hospitality companies – speaking out against the plans, and called on prime minister Theresa May to scrap the system altogether.

It comes as business leaders wrote to the government urging a rethink on plans to tighten the rate appeals process, making it more difficult for firms to challenge unfair increases.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of British Retail Consortium, which was one of the signatories, said the system is “not fit for purpose in the 21st century” and warned that businesses in deprived areas would suffer.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Portas said businesses risked being “destroyed” by bill increases of up to 245%.

She said: “In 2011 I was commissioned by the government to look at how we could save our high streets. Six years on and we were really making progress.

“So it’s strange to watch our leaders preparing to impose a new business rates revaluation that will cripple high street shops.

“The tax bill, which will hit retailers from April, will be the single biggest blow to independent shops since the financial crisis.

“I would estimate that at least a third of them will die off.”

The government has said the rates, which are calculated on the rental value of commercial property, will decrease for many businesses due to a fall in property values.

Portas warned that a punitive rise will lead to the return of “clone towns” in which “the only ‘mix’ will be of charity shops, bookies and Costa”.

She called on communities secretary Sajid Javid, business secretary Greg Clark and the prime minister to “stop this madness before it destroys everything we’ve been fighting for”.

Brigid Simmonds, head of the British Beer & Pub Association, said a proposed cap on business rates for pubs should be lowered.

“They are, to use the Prime Minister’s words, ‘just about managing’,” she said in a letter to The Times.

“Swift action is needed if they are to thrive as beating hearts of their local communities.”

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