Community leaders to continue fight against proposed business rates rise in Southwold

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and Southwold Mayor, Melanie Tucker, meeting with Financial Secret

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and Southwold Mayor, Melanie Tucker, meeting with Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison, to press the case over the substantial increase in business rates set for Southwold High Street. - Credit: Archant

Leaders of a seaside community have vowed to continue fighting against proposed business rate changes due to be enforced this April.

The High Street in Southwold on a busy summers day in August.
Picture: James Bass

The High Street in Southwold on a busy summers day in August. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

The coastal resort of Southwold is renowned for its independent High Street traders which contribute to the town's charm and traditional character.

However, the futures of such businesses have been placed under threat.

This comes after proposed government increases to rateable values, from which business rates are calculated, that could see businesses in Southwold experiencing an average 180pc increase to business rates.

MORE: Fears grow in Southwold over proposed business rate increases

Following concerns raised by independent traders, Southwold town mayor Melanie Tucker and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, attended a meeting to challenge the business rate rise with financial secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison, and Mary Hardman ‎chief valuer at Valuation Office Agency (VOA).

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Ms Tucker said: 'The minister listened to the case I put forward and said she was open to suggestions from the independent retailers of Southwold regarding ways in which they might be able to assist.

'I made the case that Southwold was an anomaly which needs to be corrected by central government as increases to business rates, by contrast, in Aldeburgh are on average 80pc, Halesworth 20pc - while Woodbridge has seen a decrease.

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'I made the point of the punitive impact these rises will have on Southwold's economy as well as the regional economy.

'It's the small traders who provide services and everyday items that townspeople need - without them the quality of life of the population is under threat.

'We are talking to the right people and we are doing our best to get a strong case across. We just need to be persistent to try to achieve a fairer outcome for our independent traders - we are not giving up.'

MORE: Small business warning over business rate changes

Dr Coffey added: 'It was a constructive meeting with the minister and I am pleased to hear from the VOA's chief valuer that people are already successfully challenging before the formal appeals process has started.

'I have previously written to all businesses on the High Street with details of how they can appeal the change if they think it is unfair. We discussed the attractions of a varied High Street and the risk posed by a one size fits all valuation policy.'

Concerns raised

Guy Mitchell, director at Southwold Post Office Toys and Stationery (SPOTS), said: 'The individual nature of many of Suffolk's market towns is a key element of the local economy with Southwold paying a particularly important role.

'We hope that the minister will be able to see the impact that the current system of business rates will have on ordinary family run businesses.

'The government claims that it is committed to supporting small businesses but their definition of a small business excludes virtually every family owned shop in Southwold. The rating system, unlike most forms of tax, bears absolutely no relation to ability to pay. It is out-dated and no longer fit for purpose.

'Whilst the government insists that there are more winners than losers as a result of the recent rates review, we would like the minister to see the devastating impact of anomalies in the system which are likely to have a significant negative impact on the local economy.

'The review will add over £7,000 per year to our existing rates bill. My wife, Sarah, and I will attempt to manage the cost by working longer hours ourselves and cutting overtime and additional seasonal jobs.

'We will also curtail the community activities and support that we have always tried to be involved with. Unfortunately, we will have neither the time or the funds to contribute in the way we would wish.'

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