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High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt.

High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt.

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The minister responsible for our high streets has today defended the Government’s stance on the controversial business rates system.

Last week we launched our campaign for a fairer version of business rates, urging our readers to sign an online petition, which urges the Government to launch an immediate review of the business rates system. Trade associations have said the tax is among the biggest issues for business owners in the UK.

Today, High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt, who is also Conservative MP for Portsmouth North said that the Government’s decision to delay the review until 2017 was of benefit to hundreds of thousands of businesses.

She said: “This Government’s long term economic plan is supporting business, local shops and the high street with lower taxes, despite the need to pay off the deficit left by the last administration.

“We have already taken targeted action, including providing over £1 billion of business rates support, introducing a new £1,000 retail discount, and doubling small business rate relief - helping an estimated half a million small firms.

“We have also made small business relief easier to claim, capped the increase in rates below inflation this year, and our reoccupation discount means occupiers of previously empty properties get 50 per cent off for 18 months.

“Looking forward, our business rates review will look at improving the longer-term administration involved in the rates so the system is simple, fair and predictable for ratepayers. A 2015 rating revaluation would have meant soaring bills for local firms, with almost three times as many businesses including many on high streets seeing their bills shoot up.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for business rates insists that a new package of measures introduced on April 1 has improved the business rates system. The new set of measures included a new reoccupation discount of 50 per cent for 18 months for new occupants of retail premises that have previously been empty for a year or more; allowing businesses to pay their bills over 12 months (rather than 10), which will help every firm with their cash flow; a 2 per cent cap on business rate inflation increase; the new £1,000 business rates discount for local shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs (up to a rateable value of £50,000) which has been estimated as more than £272 million of tax relief this year and the doubling of the extension of the small business rate relief until 31 March 2015.

But business groups still think the Government can do much more to help.

Alan Hawkins, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) commented: “The Government has made a number of small, temporary gestures on Business rates and that just goes to show that it recognises there’s a real problem to solve – otherwise it would not have made them.

“What is needed in the run-up to the General Election is real commitment to fundamental change in the way the tax works from the political parties - and a real debate on options which can be put in place without further delay.”

How to support our campaign: Simply visit https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-launch-an-immediate-review-of-the-business-rates-system-in-england-freezing-rates-in-the-interim and sign our petition.