We all need a fairer system

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The simple reason that town centre shops are empty or on the market is that the bottom line in their accounts does not show an adequate profit and, in a lot of cases, shows a loss. This is why they have gone out of business.

For those who have difficulty in understanding this, I shall spell it out in simple terms.

Rent and rates are the two major fixed costs in running a shop and the higher they are, the selling price of the goods may have to increase. This is one of the main reasons high streets have become uncompetitive.

While most landlords now, due to supply and demand, are prepared to negotiate new lower rents and leases, the Government, apart from tampering round the edges, is not prepared to alter the ways under which business rates are assessed.

The facts are these. Successive governments have deliberately engineered two completely different systems to assess rates.

One system is for small shops like ours in Sudbury or Hadleigh, and the other is for large department stores and out of town shops.

This deliberate and disgraceful action condoned by all parties and now admitted in a letter, on my desk, signed by the MP with the title Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury, throws up the following example figures ( extracted from VOA website).

The rateable values of four shops in Sudbury and Hadleigh are (cost per square meter): Stead & Simpson (empty) 324; Julian Graves (empty) 227; Cellar & Kitchen, Hadleigh, 190; Boots, Hadleigh, 188.

Compare this to Harrods, Knightsbridge, 163; Tesco, Sudbury, 39; Morrisons, Hadleigh, 38; Aldi, Sudbury, 46.

After discussing these anomalies with our MP, Tim Yeo, a short while ago, he assured me that he and his colleagues would do nothing about this, and I quote “there are no votes in changing the system”.

I, therefore, invite both Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Convenience Stores – both of whom claim that they regularly lobby the Government about business rates – to tell readers what they have achieved in getting them reduced and to ask if they agree that shops in Sudbury and Hadleigh are forced to pay, in some cases, more than twice that of Harrods, and how they intend to rectify the matter.

They have known my views on business rates for some years and I shall be pleased to help them with facts and figures if they so wish.

Ian Berry

Kestrel Bookshop