Victory for Doncaster Free Press business rates campaign

Martin Maltby, owner of Don Valley Cycles.
Martin Maltby, owner of Don Valley Cycles.

The Doncaster Free Press has scored a huge victory in our fight to save the high street after the chancellor announced a review of crippling business rates in his autumn statement.

The announcement will spark a root and branch review starting ‘imminently’, which a treasury spokesman said is believed to be the first of its kind since 1988.

Federation of Small Businesses Regional Chairman Gordon Millward

Federation of Small Businesses Regional Chairman Gordon Millward

Under the ‘Shop Local‘ banner, the Free Press, and hundreds of Johnston Press sister titles nationwide, had campaigned for urgent reform and a freeze in rates while it was conducted. More than 5,000 people signed our petition.

In addition to the rates review, chancellor George Osborne announced an increase in the discount small retailers can claim, from £1,000 to £1,500.

He also revealed a 100 per cent business rates relief for the smallest properties would last for another year until March 2016.

While there will be no freeze on business rates, the chancellor said there will be a two per cent cap on any increases.

Chancellor George Osborne has urged voters to 'stay the course' with his economic plan

Chancellor George Osborne has urged voters to 'stay the course' with his economic plan

That adds up to the equivalent of a cut of £352 a year for the average shop, according to business expert and media commentator Paul Turner-Mitchell.

He added: “Your campaign has shown the effect of rates on local business. And it has been heard at the doors of Westminster.”

Ashley Highfield, the chief executive of Johnston Press, said: “It’s clear from the number of people that have signed our petition the depth of feeling and support there is for small businesses up and down the country.

“Local businesses drive the local economy and when that happens communities then thrive. These are the sorts of issues which are going to be of critical importance in the run up to the elections next year – and decision makers need to start listening.”

Danielle Jenkins, left, and Ailee Hodgson at Sweet Escape in Doncaster.

Danielle Jenkins, left, and Ailee Hodgson at Sweet Escape in Doncaster.

We urged the Government to think again about an unfair tax which has been increased by nearly £700 million in the past three years, leaving traders with the highest property tax bills in Europe.

Business leaders in Doncaster and from further afield gave their seal of approval to the campaign and welcomed the chancellor’s announcement.

Simon Dishman, policy and information officer for Doncaster Chamber, said: “The chamber actively supports a wholesale review of business rates, which in their present form continue to adversely affect local businesses. Locally, its great to see the Free Press lending a voice to this campaign.

“We would like to see a freeze in business rates for all companies until 2017 with a view to carrying out a complete revaluation of all premises, ultimately leading to a root and branch review of the system to establish an internationally competitive local tax system by 2022.”

Ian and Alison Blaylock at Doncaster Brewery Tap.

Ian and Alison Blaylock at Doncaster Brewery Tap.

Doncaster mayor Ros Jones gave a cautious welcome to the announcement, but claimed the Government should adopt Labour’s plan to scrap inflation-linked increases up to 2016.

She said: “It is time for government to do more on business rates, which is why I supported this important Free Press campaign. I welcome the review that has been announced, however, more could still be done to ease the burden on business.”

Gordon Millward, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses in South Yorkshire, said: “We’d like to acknowledge the efforts of the Doncaster Free Press in placing the issue of business rates high on their campaigning agenda. The current system is out of date and needs to be put out to grass.

“Many of our members tell us paying business rates is their third biggest cost after rent and wages. It’s complicated, opaque, regressive and unresponsive to changes in economic conditions.”

The British Independent Retailers Association vowed to keep the pressure on the Government to tackle high business rates.

Alan Hawkins, chief executive, said: “The relief, discount and review are all evidence that the government knows there is a real problem to be solved. We will contribute strongly to the process of solving it.”

Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We very much welcome the commitment to undertake a comprehensive review of the business rates system. We want a system that brings investment and jobs to the high street without punishing retailers who trade online.”

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Small business owners in Doncaster praised our crusade to cut crippling rates - but urged the Government to do more to stop small businesses going to the wall.

Shop owners said an overhaul of the system including reduced rates could help to stimulate the town’s economy.

Danielle Jenkins, 29, of Carcroft, said a rates reduction would help her shop - the Sweet Escape on the corner of Silver Street and East Laith Gate - which she runs with her niece Ailee Hodgson.

The single mum said: “I’m glad the campaign seems to have worked and the Government are at least looking at the issues. If rates come down, then businesses will prosper.”

Ailee, 17, of Carcroft, added: “With extra money we could re-invest this back into the business and buy more stock and moulds to shape our chocolates in. This would particularly help at busy times such as Easter and Christmas.”

Mum-of-four Diane Donnelly-Kassem, 50, owner of Glamour n Bling in Goose Hill, said: “I benefit from the 100 per cent rates relief for small business properties so I’m glad it is being extended. Without that I doubt I would be able to continue. Long-term, they should look at introducing a percentage rates decrease for all businesses.”

Wheatley couple Ian Blaylock, 45, and Alison Blaylock, 46, co-owners of the Doncaster Brewery Tap in Young Street, believe fairer rates will reduce the number of empty units in town centres.

Mr Blaylock said: “The campaign has done a great job in bringing the nation’s attention to this issue. There are far too many empty units because people can’t afford to take them on so a reduction would bring more business in.”

Mrs Blaylock added: “I think rates in the town centre are higher than in premises on the outskirts. If people are being priced out of taking on a unit where there are economic hubs then they should look at reducing rates. Empty units in the town centre does not present a good image.”

Martin Maltby, 46, of Edenthorpe, who runs Don Valley Cycles in Chequer Road, said: “A reduction for everyone would help to get new businesses going and help existing shops.”