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Philip Hammond's Budget expected to reveal £1.5 billion fund to save high street businesses

PUBLISHED: 08:31 29 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 29 October 2018

Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Chancellor Philip Hammond.

A £1.5bn package to support Britain's struggling high street will be set out in the Budget.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to use today’s statement to announce £900m in business rates relief for almost 500,000 small retailers.

A £650m fund will help transform high streets, improving transport access and turning empty shops into homes and offices.

But Mr Hammond was warned the measures do not go far enough, with calls for fundamental reform to business rates rather than “tinkering”.

High streets have taken a battering in recent months, with major retailers struggling as shoppers shift online and firms railing against rising business rates.

The business rates relief being offered by Mr Hammond is aimed at around 496,000 small retailers and will knock a third off their bills.

While the rates relief is aimed at offering short-term help, the plan to revive town centres is aimed at having a long-term impact.

The £650 million fund will also be used to improve infrastructure, restore properties and put historic buildings back into use.

On Thursday Debenhams became the latest big-name high street retailer to announce store closures, unveiling plans to axe up to 50 shops, putting around 4,000 jobs at risk, after posting a near £500 million loss.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium said the business rates announcements would not help the larger firms employing the majority of workers.

“While we hugely welcome the temporary support being given to small businesses, these measures alone are not sufficient to enable a successful reinvention of our high streets,” she said.

“Retailers are currently in the midst of a perfect storm of technology changing how people shop, rising public policy costs and softening demand.

“Struggling high streets require a broader outlook in order to thrive, particularly given the majority of the UK’s 3.1 million retail workers are employed in businesses that will not benefit from this announcement.

“The underlying issue remains that the business rates burden is simply too high and this unsustainable system needs less tinkering and more wholesale reform within the context of the wider taxation system.”

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