MP says business rates system needs fundamental change

Steve Brine has spoken out on the vexed subject of business rates saying the system needs route and branch reform.

The Winchester MP recently crunched some numbers with Cllr Guy Ashton, who holds the Portfolio for Finance, Organisational Development and Business Management at Winchester City Council and while a dozen of the 300 shops in the city centre are vacant, the vacancy rate according to Winchester Business Improvement District is decreasing, and is four times lower than the national average.

Steve Brine said: "There are charity shops, coffee shops independent shops  sitting successfully alongside familiar national brands. We have TK Maxx, Poundland and Primark, which is great as Winchester is full of young families like mine who use all of them.

"I sometimes hear blame for a changing retail environment laid at the door of WCC around rent and rates but this doesn't stack up. Government sets the rate and private landlords – including charities we may support, private individuals and pension funds - set rent. And behind every retail closure there's an individual story that explains what happened.

"For policy makers in Government, it's the trend we must spot and, where possible, act upon. The recent rates revaluation has hit many but, of course, reflects the prosperity of Winchester and that's a double-edged sword.

"It was also long overdue and that must change which is why I supported plans to move to more regular revaluations because we cannot have cliff edge spikes like 2017 ever again.

"There has, of course, has been a discretionary relief scheme, which I pushed the Treasury to create, but I remain of the view that the fundamentals of business rates need to change.

"The new Retail Sector Council is bringing the sector together with Government and local councils, making recommendations on the areas that come up time and again. Those include business rates, where the Government have made a clear commitment to make sure that the system is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online. A levelling of the playing field would be a good start."

Mr Brine also commented that on his regular business canvassing sessions, he sees a 'vibrant' and 'changing' High Street, and that the recent Winchester Business Excellence Awards showed entrepreneurs with a positive mind-set, a modern approach to retail and thriving businesses.

Pictured; Steve Brine MP and Cllr Guy Ashton with Cllr Fiona Mather in the City Centre.