Following an article about the booksellers’ plight written by the actor Simon Callow in The Guardian in April, local MP Mark Field has called for a freeze on business rate rises and increases to threshold levels that are driving independent shops “to the edge”.
Rates have become a key topic following the abrupt cessation of ‘transitional rate relief’ and a hike in business rates. Though the government backed off from raising the business rate by a full five per cent this year, a two per cent rise will be followed by a further three per cent in the next two years.
The business rate revaluation, that will be based on last year’s sky-high property rental values, will cause rates to soar in April 2010 – by 38 per cent in the case of the average Westminster property.
In a Commons debate on October 28, Mr Field, Conservative member for Cities of London and Westminster, highlighted the impact of tax changes on the Cecil Court traders.
“Businesses on the scale of those in Cecil Court are fragile,” he said. “Having staved off the threat of an upfront five per cent increase for 2009/10, a larger threat now looms on the horizon – that of a further change to business rates as a result of the five-yearly revaluation.”
Tim Bryars, secretary of the Cecil Court Association and a dealer in antique maps, said his business rate bill had rocketed from £4326 last year to £7696 this year, with a further 30 per cent increase expected from April 2010. “Instead of supporting small businesses, the government is using them as a short-term cash cow,” he said. “And it is very short-term, because soon those businesses will be gone.”
Two 40-year-old Cecil Court businesses have already closed this year.
Mr Bryars says the Cecil Court traders are not making a special case for bookshops. Instead they want to see a general lowering of the National Non-Domestic Rate Multiplier, at least until the economy improves, and an increase in thresholds at which relief schemes for smaller businesses apply.
Cecil Court traders have also received support from Brian Connell, cabinet member for Communities and Economic Development on Westminster Council, and their landlord, Lord Salisbury.
Meanwhile, some of the bigger London dealers who pay business rates of more than £50,000 per year are now also having to pay the Crossrail levy for which the authorities need to raise £3.5bn.
Dealers based within the “central activities zone” that fall into this category are having to pay an extra 2p in the pound on top of their current rates.
By Roland Arkell