A local tax relief for local people with the right sort of business?
We all know that the recession might reduce Tescos’ profits by a mere billion or so, but the gaping holes in our high streets show the toll on smaller, local businesses. Now, one group of shops wants to introduce a relief from business rates for businesses with “cultural and educational value”.
Unsurprisingly the proponent of this idea is trade body, the Booksellers Association (BA), who are lamenting the loss of almost 400 independent bookshops since June 2006. Of course, the decline of this particular type of shop has nothing to do with Amazon’s world domination strategy at ALL, and all 400 would presumably still be with us, had they been able to pay lower business rates.
The BA argues that business rates are an extra tax on companies (they are) and wants rate relief to be given to any businesses with "cultural and educational value". It also wants local councils to provide more free or cut-price parking in the centres of market towns and cities as the high cost of parking is seen as a deterrent to shoppers. Clearly with all the bookshops and other ‘cultural and educational’ shops paying lower rates, the Council will be absolutely delighted to lose another revenue stream from parking charges too.
But mock as we may (and we often do at Bitterwallet), Chief Executive of the BA,Tim Godfray, may have a point. Offering some kind of financial relief to help maintain independent shops in our high street is probably a nice idea. Tim is a little more emphatic on the subject,
“We know that maintaining bookshops on our high street is vital to literacy, the future economic prosperity of UK and the cultural health of our nation. At a time when literacy is an issue and libraries are under threat from Government cuts, we need to build a coalition of publishers, Government and consumers to provide opportunities for the passionate and creative entrepreneurs who run bookshops on our high streets to thrive,” he declared, while punching his fist into his hand.
“There is a lot of talk about putting the high street first, but far more action is needed. Rate relief for businesses with a cultural and educational value would be welcome. There is plenty that can be done but it needs to be done now if we are to maintain bookshops on our high streets,” he finished, slightly sweaty.
So what do you think? Would you fall into the cultural chasm left by the absence of a bookshop on your high street? Should independent businesses get special treatment, or only if they are the ‘right’ sort of business? Do you even care?