‘Wall-to-wall chain stores and charity shops’ – stark outlook if rates rise 177% in Southwold
14:00 11 February 2017
High Street traders are predicting “tragic” consequences if the Government sees through plans to raise business rates by an average of 177% in Southwold.
Traders have banded together to send a clear message to shoppers – that the character of the town will be deeply affected by the hikes.
Signs displaying the increase were placed on the approach to Southwold, where a number of MPs yesterday attended a memorial service for former cabinet minister and Lowestoft MP Lord (Jim) Prior of Brampton.
Dozens of shop windows contain posters stating the percentage increases they each face from April, when businesses will see the amount they pay change due to the first revaluation of commercial property since 2008.
Southwold Chamber of Trade member Rebecca Bishop has a £9 price tag on a loaf of bread in her Two Magpies Bakery to the price she would have to charge if faced with a 177% increase.
She said the town-wide protest had been planned to coincide with the start of half-term, when the seaside resort is expected to be busy with visitors.
“We want to publicise our message as widely as possible,” she added. “We would like the Government to reform small business rate relief.
“Businesses, like ours, that were identified as being small and in need of rate relief, have suddenly become medium businesses.
“My £9,200-a-year rateable value has now moved up to £25,500. The money I need to fund such an increase is the equivalent of employing someone part-time.
“We had been looking to expand to a second location, but will no longer be able to afford it. The decision to keep trading will become harder and harder.
“I hope the Government sees sense, or this town will become wall-to-wall chain stores and charity shops. It would be a very different economy. They would be killing the golden goose.”
Rates are calculated by multiplying rateable value by a figure set by government – 48p for small businesses in 2015/16.
Rateable values are measured every five years, based on a property’s annual rental price, and were due to be assessed in 2015 – but the process was delayed.
Clare Hart, of Chapmans newsagents and My Southwold, which promotes independent businesses, said: “We are seriously worried about how it will impact on the High Street.
“We’ll end up seeing boarded-up windows. It would be tragic, and would change the character of the High Street. Of all the things that have affected small businesses, this affects all of us.”
Southwold resident John Nickell-Lean called the rises “outrageous” and predicted shops would be forced to close.
George Mills, of Mills & Sons butchers, said a pound of sausages could cost £12 to offset the increases.
“We are being hit by disproportionate rates,” he added. “A rise of 175% is not sustainable.
“It won’t work if we have to fund an extra £1,000 a month. It would, eventually, leave us more likely than not to shut up shop – ending 330 years of tradition and family business.
“I see it having a knock-on effect on tourism – the town’s main source of income – if visitors suddenly see boarded-up windows.”
Rates are also set to increase in other east Suffolk towns – by up to 70% in Aldeburgh and 20% in Halesworth.
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has written to businesses on the High Street with details of how to appeal the changes from the Valuation Office Agency, with a number making successful challenges ahead of formal appeals.
She and Southwold mayor Melanie Tucker put Southwold’s case to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison, and the Valuation Office Agency.
The Government says it expects three-quarters of businesses across the country to see rates either fall or remain the same, while the new rateable values will lead to a 13% drop in business rates for shops and a 7% reduction for offices across East Anglia.
Dr Coffey was among serving and former MPs to attend yesterday’s memorial service for Lord Prior, who died at 89 in December.
He served for five years in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, as employment secretary and Northern Ireland secretary.
He became the MP for Lowestoft in 1959 and, when the Suffolk seat changed, became member for Waveney from 1983 to 1987, when he was made a life peer.
His son David became the MP for North Norfolk in 1997, and now sits in the House of Lords as a health minister.