Belfast Telegraph

Call for taxes to be made fairer as nearly 50 shops vanish each week

The burden of sky-high business rates is seen contributing to the plight of bricks-and-mortar retailers while online rivals are flourishing.

Nearly 50 shops are vanishing every week from the high street and more will be forced out of business unless taxes are reformed to cover online retailers, experts have warned.

The burden of sky-high business rates – which have soared since the controversial revaluation on April 1 – is seen as contributing to the plight of bricks-and-mortar retailers while online rivals are flourishing.

Figures from ratings adviser Altus Group show that 44 shops a week have either been demolished or converted into homes or other types of use.

Its research has found that, in the seven years since the last rates revaluation, 15,856 shops across England and Wales have shut.

The shop count stood at 430,360 in April 2010,  but this had dropped by 3.68% to 414,504 just seven years later.

But while shopkeepers have been hit with surging business rates in many areas across England and Wales, online sellers are not facing the same pressures.

It was reported earlier this year that online retail giant Amazon’s nine distribution centres in England and Wales would benefit from a £148,000 cut in business rates from April to £11.3 million, despite the company’s annual sales in this country soaring to £7.3 billion.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director at the Centre for Retail Research, warned that “historic forms of taxation are hobbling physical stores and giving the advantage to online retailers”.

He said: “If we want to maintain a variety of forms of competitive retail enterprise, from small stores to large big box and department stores serving villages, towns and big cities, we need to ensure that property and company taxes do not consistently penalise physical shops in favour of e-commerce.”

He called for urgent action, while Altus said an online sales tax could be used to offer rates relief to high street stores.

Alex Probyn, president of UK business rates at Altus, said: “An online sales tax might be used to level the playing field, but it does not belong within a system based largely on rental values.

“An online sales tax, for example, should not be seen as a generator of additional income, but revenue could be ring-fenced and used to provide additional relief for traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers.”

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