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Mon, 18/11/2019 - 12:00

Conservatives pledge to increase retail business rates relief

£280m election pledge with more expected, but will there be anything fundamentally new?

Although the manifestos are yet to be published the main political parties have already made pledges, with the Conservatives being the first to consider business rates as part of a package of measures to help town centres.

Friday’s announcement includes an increase to Retail Rate Relief. The current version of the relief was introduced on 1 April 2019, whereby qualifying retail premises with a rateable value of less than £51,000 may be entitled to one third off their rates bill. From 1 April 2020 this would be increased to 50% off. The relief would be extended to include cinemas and music venues.

Whilst the pledge – if implemented – would be most welcome, the relief is likely to be subject to EC state aid rules capping the relief at €200,000 over a three year period. Many retailers with only a handful of properties may already be close to or even up to this limit.

Included in the announcement is a £1,000 discount for pubs, although the criteria for this pledge is not yet known.

What else can we expect from the main political parties in the coming weeks?

In view of the political climate BNPPRE is not expecting any radical pledges, with manifesto commitments from the 2017 general election likely to be recycled.

In 2017 the Conservatives committed to ‘digitising’ business rates by 2024. This is understood to mean placing business rates bills on a portal where liabilities can be paid in the same place as other HMRC taxes. This seems to be the direction of travel and was cited in a recent parliamentary inquiry into business rates.

In 2017 Labour and the Liberal Democrats favoured a Land Value Tax, although the parliamentary inquiry did not favour such a tax, saying it would be difficult to implement.

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