Rising rates bills, increasing rents, soaring employment costs and pressure from online retailers and out of town shopping centres are creating a perfect storm in town centres, warns the Federation of Small Businesses area leader in Bedfordshire.
Charles Smith said: “It is clear the pressure is mounting. Spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents are piling on to small retailers, hospitality businesses and others on the high street.
"The high cost of town centre parking, poor infrastructure, the blight of potholes and the loss of vital banking services are also ramping up the pressure.”
- Pictured: Charles Smith, the FSB’s area leader in Bedfordshire.
The FSB nationally has set out new recommendations in five key areas, which it says should be prioritised by policymakers.
- Create fairer business rates bills for high streets and beyond;
- Build an easy and simple system for businesses to appeal rates bills;
- Abolish the rates relief rule that penalises small business expansion into additional premises;
- Create more free parking and invest in the maintenance of local road networks, which support local high streets and their customers;
- Put in place measures to safeguard access to cash and banking services.
Mr Smith said: “We know that small business owners are resilient and are used to adapting to market forces. But we want to see government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive but also to thrive.”
The FSB wants the government to considera type of ‘London weighting’ to Small Business Rate Relief in order to help struggling firms by increasing thresholds for intensely pressured areas such as the towns in the prosperous South East.
The concept could also be expanded to other areas most affected by the last revaluation, and whose temporary relief is also now falling away.
It is also calling for the abolition of the rates relief rule that penalises small business expanding into additional premises. Currently most small firms lose their existing SBRR when they move into a second property.
The FSB says the relief should be changed to a personal threshold for a business owner so that it can apply to multiple properties owned by one business below the combined value of £15,000.
The FSB wants local authorities to provide more free parking to encourage shoppers back to the high street all year round. Investment in the roads network and measures such as fixing potholes more quickly will make a real difference to small firms, it says.
It is also concerned at the cuts to cash machine funding and the loss of thousands of bank branches, calling for the Post Office network to be protected, with every branch providing a reliable, efficient and standardised core of business services.
Mr Smith said: “Over the long term, a serious look is needed to overhaul the unfair, regressive business rates tax that hits firms before they have had the chance to make their first pound of turnover, let alone profit.
“We are not suggesting there’s a quick fix for the high street but it is clear something needs to be done. We are calling on the government to take control of the situation and, working with local authorities, take the pressure off struggling high street businesses.”