'Free' ATMs to boost local shops
Councils should encourage shops to install free cash machines by offering business rate discounts, a Government Minister has said.
Local Government Minister Penny Mordaunt said that small shops often struggle with local rates payable on cash machines, so giving them an incentive to install free machines would help their businesses and consumers facing fees at the same time.
The suggestion was welcomed by the Association of Convenience Stores, which said half of local stores now contained an ATM.
Ms Mordaunt said: "People should not have to pay through the nose to access their cash. Free-to-use cash machines are a vital service that we are asking councils to take seriously.
"Councils can reduce rates for providers that commit to introduce new cash machines into areas, or remove charges on existing machines.
"We want councils to use their local business rates discount powers to ensure better access to cash machines in all areas and on our high streets."
Despite the growth of cashless payment systems many small stores still rely on cash. But machines in shops can often charge fees of several pounds to users no matter how big the withdrawal.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has written to councils, saying: "Recent reports have highlighted the difficulties of obtaining cash in certain localities.
"We would therefore like authorities to consider using their powers to provide relief to cash machines where there is a clear community benefit, such as where cash machine providers commit to introduce extra cash machines or reduce charges on existing machines.
"We would also like to remind authorities that, under business rates retention scheme, central government funds 50% of the cost of any local discount granted."
The ACS has also written a guide for its members and councils on the benefits of a rate cut.
James Lowman, the ACS chief executive, said: "ATMs located in local shops, cafes and other businesses and accessed from the street provide an essential service to high streets and local communities. Over half of convenience stores now include an ATM as part of their offer to customers."
Former Labour minister Frank Field, who has campaigned for better access to free cash machines in deprived areas, added: "There is real momentum now behind our campaign to protect the poor from having to pay to withdraw cash, and we need as a next step the industry itself to work with councils to make the most of this."
However, the Local Government Association said it wanted the Government to reform business rates to allow it to set discounts locally.
Claire Kober, a Labour councillor from Haringey in London and chairwoman of the LGA's Resources Board, said: "Councils have been urging government to overhaul business rates and remove the obstacles which prevent us from supporting high street shops, small firms and new start-ups as much as we would like to.
"Councils could do much more to support small businesses and local communities if we were able to set rates and discounts locally. It will be crucial that government's reform of business rates make this a truly local tax.
"The money which a business pays should be retained by local government to invest in vital local services, all of which help local businesses either directly or indirectly."