13 May 2021

Bira raise major issues with Small Business Minister

The long-awaited business rates review, Restart Grants and the rent moratorium were all on the agenda of a Bira meeting attended by Small Business Minister Paul Scully.

Minister Scully was the guest at Bira's monthly Legal Affairs and Policy Committee (LPAC) meeting on Wednesday, May 12. The 45-minute meeting covered a variety of issues concerning independent retailers right now.

On the issue of business rates, Bira urged Mr Scully to ensure that the review due in the autumn finally reforms business rates and reduces the burden on high street retailers.

Bira CEO Andrew Goodacre said: "We stated that the large online retailer must pay more tax, or other parts of the tax system could be used to replace the reduced income from business rates.

"We also reminded the Minister about our own policy of introducing a rates allowance, guaranteeing every business a rates-free allowance. At the end of the day, this pandemic has shown that business rates have to be significantly reduced if independent retailers are to re-build their business."

The ending of the current rent moratorium, preventing landlords from taking legal action, was also on the agenda. Protection is set to end on June 30, 2021.

The Government launched a consultation and, at the meeting, Bira confirmed that we support the proposal to target existing measures on those businesses that are most impacted by Covid-19.

Andrew said: "Our own recent survey showed that 30% of retailers have some rental debt, and 30% of landlords are not willing to negotiate. We stressed to the Minister that it would be an absolute tragedy if retailers faced forced closure due to legal action just as they we re-building their business after months of closure."

The discrepency between Restart Grants was the third major issue on the agenda; some parts of the high street receive more support than others (personal care business receiving £8,000 compared to non-essential retailers receiving on average £3,000).

Andrew added: "The argument presented to the Minister was that some retailers can open but are still severely impacted because their market is restricted – for example boutique wedding shops, fashion shops and travel agents. We asked for the Government to increase the support available to these sectors of the high street still facing restrictions."

Other topics covered included retail crime (abuse of staff and shop theft) and the need to support retailers dealing with cyber crime.

"We have also written to the Minister about other issues such a credit insurance and problems with importing goods. and will chase responses accordingly," concluded Andrew.

"It was a good meeting, giving Bira direct access to the Small Business Minister and a sign of the growing influence of our policy and campaigns work."

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