New Year sales shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops and markets selling a wide range of locally produced items, including food and drink. There is no doubt that our local high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.
However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.
Building on previous business rate reductions and increases in the VAT threshold, Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements. While out Christmas shopping I heard first hand from local independent retailers the positive difference these savings are making to their sustainability.
From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a further business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers.
To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets fit for the future.
The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.
It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures.
The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties, helping prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street.
The government is also taking longer term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created.
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year!
First published in the West Briton 27/12/18