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Retailers warn Chancellor against £400m business rates hike

Bosses of a raft of Britain’s biggest retailers, such as Tesco, M&S and B&Q, have urged the Chancellor to freeze their property taxes to avoid a roughly £400 million hike.

A group of 44 retail leaders have written to Jeremy Hunt to halt an inflation-based increase to business rates bills, the property tax which affects the UK’s high street firms.

The letter, which has been co-ordinated by the British Retail Consortium, said a rise would be “threatening the viability of many shops and hindering the industry’s capacity to invest”.

Bosses such as Tesco UK and Ireland chief executive officer Jason Tarry, Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts and Greggs chief executive Roisin Currie backed the calls.

Currently, business rates are planned to increase in April 2024 in line with the inflation figure for September. This figure is due to be announced in October and is currently forecast at about 6%.

The BRC said this would amount to an increase of more than £400m a year to retailers’ business rates bills.

It highlighted that an increase at that level would also put more pressure on pricing in stores, as the Chancellor and Prime Minister seek to meet their pledge of halving inflation this year.

In the letter they added: “Global supply chain issues are already likely to increase costs in the months ahead, including Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and targeting of Ukrainian grain silos, plus restrictions on Indian rice exports and ongoing labour market challenges.

“Against this backdrop, the Government should not make the situation worse by adding significantly to our cost base – freezing the business rates multiplier at its current level would avoid this.”

An inflation-linked rise to business rates would have been due to take place in April this year but was frozen by the Government.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “The Chancellor must freeze rates to help keep a lid on retailers’ already-high costs.

“With shop price inflation having eased for three consecutive months, it is vital that the Government does not add to the cost burden and undermine this progress.

“A £400 million rates rise will also cost jobs, harm the economy and damage the vibrancy of our town and city centres.

“While other business taxes, such as corporation tax and VAT, rise and fall with the movements in the economy, business rates must be paid in full whether firms are making a profit or a loss.

“This makes business rates the difference between retailers being forced to close existing stores rather than opening new ones.”