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Friday, 19 April 2019
HENLEY’S independent retailers have welcomed the news that business rates for small traders are to be cut by a third.
The move was announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Budget on Monday as part of a raft of measures to improve conditions on Britain’s high streets.
The discount will be rolled out over a two-year period from April for traders whose premises have a rateable value of less than £51,000 a year.
The move follows the introduction in April last year of an exemption for businesses with a rateable value below £12,000, which several Henley traders already benefit from.
The latest measure will help about 500,000 independent retailers nationally and cost the Treasury about £900million.
Henley business owners said it would help existing independents to thrive and attract new ones to the town.
However, some argued it didn’t go far enough and more should be done in the face of competition from chain stores and online shopping.
Laurence Morris, who owns Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, said: “The rate relief is great news as any amount we can get back is welcome. I certainly hope to be eligible, although the Government has a funny way of saying one thing and doing another.
“I think it needs to do more to encourage start-up businesses on the high street because a third off business rates isn’t enough. Any new company that takes a minimum five-year lease on a premises should get 50 per cent off in the first year, then a lesser discount on a sliding scale over the next three years, which would really help kickstart their growth.
“Rates are the biggest obstacle to a start-up retailer faces and while rents are another difficulty, the Government has no control over them.”
Barry Wagner, the owner of Gabriel Machin butcher’s in Market Place, said: “If the reduction can help high street businesses like mine that can only be a good thing.
“You only have to look at the number of empty shop units in Henley to see how challenging it is for us.
“We need to bring more customers in. If we can do that by reducing our own costs and reflecting that saving in our prices, that’s got to be beneficial for everyone.”
Lorraine Hillier, a Henley town councillor who runs the Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street, said: “Anything that helps small businesses and the local Henley economy is great news.
“I just wish they would bring VAT down, which would help even more.
“I already benefit from rate relief as my premises have a low rateable value but it’s going to be helpful for anyone with a larger unit.
“Hopefully, it will allow them to keep trading for longer because rates bills are a pretty big blow on top of your rent, utilities and other outgoings.
“Along with contributing to the vibrancy of their home towns, people start small high street businesses to earn a living and it has been difficult to do that for some time.”
Liz Felix, who owns Liz Felix Millinery in Reading Road, said: “Any bit of help for independents is appreciated although, as far as we’re concerned it’s too little, too late.
“I think small businesses with fewer than a certain number of employees should be exempt from rates.
“They’re calculated on the size of your shop and I have quite a large floorspace but that’s because this unit was further out of town and the only available one that I could afford.
“It’s still only me running it so I don’t think rates should be based on square footage.
“It would also help if there was a government service offering advice and support to small businesses, especially new ones, and there should be interest-free loans available for start-ups with rate exemptions for the first few years.”
Jason Kempston, who runs the Sole Man shoe repair shop in Duke Street, said: “A rates reduction has to be a good thing but sometimes you get the feeling that they’re doing the minimum necessary to be re-elected.
“Henley’s retail economy could be improved by action at a local level, like tackling the traffic and parking problems.”
Hilary Redhead, manager of the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street, said: “If the discount happens we’ll be delighted because anything that brings rates down is to be welcomed.
“We’re fortunate to own our building so don’t have as many outgoings as some businesses but it’s a sizeable chunk of money alongside our other outgoings.”
Henley town manager Helen Barnett said: “The rate reduction will have a bearing on Henley retailers with lower rateable values but won’t help immediately as it’s being introduced over a two-year period.
“We don’t have units that are empty for a long time and have fairly average turnover with premises filling quickly when they become available.
“From Henley’s perspective, it would be good if more help were available for small businesses to effectively manage their social media presence and with other forms of marketing.
“People are often busy with the day-to-day running of their business and not necessarily promoting it as well as they could.
“We could also use more help getting people to work together to promote the town, which is more effective than each business just working individually to promote itself.”
Niki Schäfer, chairwoman of the Henley Business Partnership, said: “I’m delighted at the news as the high street is in desperate need of Government support and if this translates into a reduction for Henley businesses then it has to be a good thing.
“However, I’m slightly nervous that the threshold for the reduction will turn out not to be very ‘Henley-friendly’. It sounds like a great idea but when you dig a bit deeper there’s a danger we may not actually benefit. We’ll have to wait and see.
“Retailers are up against online shopping and there are many aspects of that sector which need to be examined.
“I think consumers are increasingly aware of the traffic congestion caused by next-day delivery and that’s something that should be taxed.
“However, the internet isn’t going away and independent traders need to stay at the top of people’s minds so that they decide to pick something up in person instead of ordering online. There are lots of advantages to the high street like good service, the personal connection and not having to send goods back so small businesses can capitalise on that.”
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