JOHN HOWELL has called for small firms in Henley to be given more relief from business rates.
The Henley MP has written to Chancellor George Osborne after meeting business owners last week.
He suggested the threshold for small business rate relief in Henley is raised from £18,000 to £25,500 in line with that of Greater London and that start-up businesses be given a “holiday” from business rates for the first two years.
The cost of living in Henley is similar to or higher than in many parts of the capital.
In his letter to Mr Osborne, Mr Howell said: “Henley is a small, thriving market town. However, many retailers are struggling and business rates play their part in this.
“I fully appreciate the substantial contribution that business rates make to the Treasury and that we cannot afford to set this aside without a substitute.
However, in the meantime there are two things that came from my meeting.
“Firstly, Henley has a cost of living in excess of or similar to that in many parts of Greater London. If you compare Henley with Wembley, for example, it is clear that the costs of purchasing any form of housing is much greater in Henley and it has seen greater rises over the last few years.
“Despite this, businesses here are subject to a threshold of £18,000 below which they benefit from small business rate relief or the use of the small business multiplier.
“Many small shops in Henley fall just above the bar and reap no benefit. Yet it is these shops on which Henley depends for its character and its attractiveness as a shopping destination. If the same cap were applied in Henley as it is applied in Greater London (£25,500), it would make all the difference.
“The second issue raised was whether there could be any holiday for start-up independent businesses. The criteria could be quite tight to ensure that only genuine entrepreneurs starting up for the first time benefit.
“A package for the first two years in the life of an infant business would give them the chance to get established and enable them to lay solid foundations for future years. The medium-term benefit for short-term relief would bring benefit in a number of areas.”
Mr Howell’s meeting last Friday was arranged by the Henley Partnership and took place at the Chiltern House Business Centre in Station Road. Laurence Morris, owner of Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, who attended, said: “Henley is a wonderful place to work and a great town but it’s very difficult for small independents because there are cost constraints.
“If the Government is looking to encourage small businesses they have to give an incentive, something along the lines of a 25 to 50 per cent discount on the first three years of a lease, so if after that time they have used their money wisely they are up and running.
“This could be for independent businesses that are new and have one shop, like mine, not chains. Why should I pay the same as a multinational or chain when they just want a presence in Henley and might be subsidised by a company? That’s not fair.”
Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said that a reduction in business rates for sole traders would send “a really good political message”.