A local tax relief for local people with the right sort of business?

bookWe 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?


  • Haggis
    Tesco sell book. I'm sure they''ll find a way to have themselves classed as a business with 'Cultural and Educational value' if this idea is adopted.
  • Marky M.
    This is shot through with holes. Would the local tandoori qualify as it has cultural value, whereas the chip shop wouldn't? Would a newsagents have educational value because of the newspapers? The Early Learning Centre? Chinese herbalists? Tourist tat shops flogging plastic "London bobby" hats? Pop-up shops selling November 5th fireworks because it's part of our culture? The Apple Store because it's educational?
  • Mr. W.
    I found Anna Summers very educational. They had some cream for my little culture too.
  • Dick
    If they want to get more people into town, don't do free parking. Do more park and ride, with free buses. And make the buses free to residents who get along along the route. Near me, P&R costs £2 return from car parks on the edge of town. Whereas a return bus ticket is £3.70 for residents. Parking in town is £4 for 3 hours. So for two of us, it is cheaper to drive into town and park. Next cheapest is drive to the P&R. The most expensive option, walk to the bus stop and get the bus. It is even worse when you add in kids. Make parking expensive to keep cars out of the centre, and lay on free or cheap buses. And maybe some decent cycle paths and cycle parking. That will get people into town.

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