Last week, while responding to the latest inflation figures Helen Dickinson, chief executive, the British Retail Consortium, warned that without a reduction in business rates there could be price rises and store closures. Now a number of retail industry businesses and associations have called for chancellor to freeze business rates once again in his November autumn statement, due on Wednesday [22 November 2023].
Scott Parsons, chief operating officer UK, at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: “As the economic headwinds of 2023 continue to bite and the government postures about supporting businesses and saving the high street, we’re yet to see real solutions. It’s critical that the chancellor steps up and addresses issues that for too long have been blocking sector growth.
“We urgently need to level the playing field level between physical and online retailers once and for all. This starts with permanently reducing business rates, which is the simplest and most effective way to kickstart recovery for retail and reinvigorate our towns and cities by making them attractive for investment. We also need to see action to introduce online sales tax.
“As physical retail faces an extremely tough external environment, online retailers continue to be let off the hook and this just isn’t fair. While it’s positive to hear that the chancellor’s priority for the Statement is backing British business, I strongly urge him to go big here, as half-baked initiatives will just not cut it.
“The axing of tax-free shopping has hit the British high street and the retail industry hard and as the critical festive period ramps up for retail, there’s a genuine risk that international visitors could shun London in favour of more wallet-friendly European cities. We need to see urgent commitments to boost consumer spend by reinstating tax-free shopping, which would have ripple effects across the whole retail sector and our wider economy.”
The CEO of Fortnum & Mason, Tom Athron has also called for the tourist tax to be scrapped, and stressed if it was not then trade would go to France instead.
He warned: “Paris will be a very attractive proposition for visitors next year, as it hosts the Olympics. My view is that waiting until the Budget in the spring to tackle the tourist tax would be too late because people are already thinking about their travel plans for next year.
“My plea to the government is to act now. We need to make sure Britain is as attractive as possible to visitors from overseas as it possibly can be”.
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA), added: “Independent retailers are finding life on the high street incredibly difficult. Significant increases in interest rates have reduced consumer expenditure and in the first half of 2023 21,000 independent businesses closed.
“The current 75% retail discount on business rates must be retained as those smaller retailers cannot afford any increases in costs – many of them are still dealing with 10% increases in their rateable values earlier this year.”
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