THE BLOG
25/11/2013 06:59 GMT | Updated 24/01/2014 05:59 GMT

An Open Letter to George Osborne

Dear Chancellor,

Businesses all over the country are awaiting next week's Autumn Statement with dread to hear if you plan to add another £840million on to the business rates bill.

At a time when UK retail sales are down for October, high streets are still recording declining footfall and Tie Rack, Barratts shoes and Blockbuster are the latest household names to announce mass store closures, retailers are particularly fearful of the damage you could do.

Any increase in business rates now would only exacerbate the unfairness many already feel following the postponement of this year's business rates revaluation, which keeps rates pegged at 2008 levels near the peak of the property boom.

Since then property values have dramatically changed and research from commercial property specialists Colliers International gives an insight into how unfair business rates have become. Prime rental areas in Greater Manchester, for example, have fallen by an average of 31 per cent since 2008, with some towns seeing an average fall of almost 50 per cent. This huge change in rental values is mirrored in many other areas of the north and highlights just how out of touch business rates now are.

While the market has seen property values and rents come down, business rates continue to defy reality and go up every year. They no longer have any real link to property values. Last year we saw the biggest increase in 20-years.

There have been countless stories across the country of small businesses closing their doors for the last time because of business rates. Many now see this as an anti business tax.

This is no exaggeration. Julian Dunkerton, chief executive of Supergroup, recently said that business rates were preventing him from opening shops in the UK and they were turning their attentions to locations abroad as a result. We have to face up to the fact that this tax is stifling investment.

Clearly this is at odds with the urgent need for Britain to not only shift our reliance away from the City of London but also support our high streets, which are the lifeblood of communities.

In the independent review I conducted into the high street with a team of experts earlier this year we singled out business rates as one of the biggest obstacles holding our high street back. As a measure of how punitive this tax has become, our research indicated that one in seven business premises were summonsed over business rates last year.

We cannot carry on like this.

That is why we are urging you to use this year's Autumn Statement to get to grips with this outdated tax and take the action that's necessary to give our high streets a fighting chance of survival. We need to see the immediate reinstatement of the business rates revaluation, a business rates freeze and a commitment to undertake a root and branch reform of this out of touch tax to make it relevant to the 21st century.

This will require political courage. But most of all it'll need common sense. Once these qualities are combined you'll be able to put the high street back on a sound footing, instill confidence in business and put high streets at the heart of a meaningful recovery that people will begin to feel instead of just hearing politicians talk about it.

Yours sincerely,

Bill Grimsey