High street report: BA urges Government to 'act urgently'

News - Bookselling Monday, 25 February 2019

MD Meryl Halls renews demand for fairer taxation

The Booksellers Association (BA) has welcomed the report on the future of the UK's high streets published last week by the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee of the House of Commons. The report urges the Government to raise taxes on online giants such as Amazon, and calls for lower business rates and more regeneration in town centres.

Meryl Halls, BA md, said: "The report sets out some perceptive questions, and comes up with well-informed and thoughtful suggestions for the Government to consider, including a specific ratings methodology for the warehouses of online retailers; reinventing business rates and other business taxes for and possible green taxes on deliveries and packaging. But the Government has to act fast, and think creatively, to secure a vibrant future for high street retail and consumers - as well as to give thought leadership for ways in which we can adapt to contemporary consumer behaviours."

She added: "We know how catastrophic business rates costs can be to small businesses - only this week a new, vibrant creative bookshop in Pinner has been hammered with huge and potentially ruinous increases in rates - this less than six months into their entrepreneurial journey to enhance the high street in Pinner. It's heart-breaking and infuriating. And it's not just small bookshops affected - the small business rate relief from last year will lift many small businesses out of rates, and the third discount off business rates bills during the next two years for those businesses that have a rateable value below £51,000 is extremely welcome. But those just over the £51,000 threshold - and our bigger, chain members - are left shouldering the burden of an inappropriate tax.

"One of the pleasing things about the report is its highlighting the difficulties retailers often have with landlords, and it calls for upward only rent reviews clauses to be outlawed and for a more collegiate approach. It's not only in rent negotiation that it's important - the best situations are where there is an ongoing, positive dialogue between retailer and landlord, and all too often our members are struggling with absentee landlords and uninterested ones."

The report also discusses strategies such as relaxation of parking restrictions and retail partnerships. Halls said: "Booksellers are very often at the forefront of their local communities, and we are aware of many of our members who are activist in their towns and villages - Emma Corfield Walters from Book-ish in Crickhowell was on BBC Breakfast this week talking about their adoption of the Totally Locally campaign - and we are pleased to see the report encourage this type of engagement amongst retailers.

"We have seen many reports into the high street - the Clone Town reports, the Portas Review, the Grimsey Reviews 1 and 2 - and what's important now is that the Government really listens to what is being suggested and acts fast. With the massive preoccupation of Brexit dominating everything, we worry this report and its many excellent suggestions will be overlooked. We urge the Government to act urgently to create vibrant, lively, well-funded and properly planned high street communities, rather than let the long slow death by a thousand cuts continue."

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