Retailers 'call for rates freeze'

Glasgow shoppingAndrew Milligan/PA Wire

Retail chiefs in Scotland are calling for business rates to be frozen after the high street endured "one of the most challenging" years for sales.

David Martin, policy adviser for the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), urged Finance Secretary John Swinney to ease the financial pressure on many stores.
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The Scottish Government has been arguing for power over corporation tax to be devolved, as Mr Martin argued that keeping business rates at their current level could be a greater boost to the economy.

The retail sector provides 9% of employment in Scotland, at 240,000 jobs. Mr Martin predicted stores would have a "respectable" Christmas in terms of sales, while the SRC's retail sales monitor shows falling sales in the high street for much of the past year.

"We would like to see something the Scottish Government could be doing to try to support us. The cost of doing business on the high street needs to be brought under control. One way they could do that would be by freezing business rates," he said.

Such a move would have a "huge impact" for retailers, Mr Martin argued, as the two biggest expenses retailers face is wages and tax.

Stores saw a "staggering" 5.6% rates increase last year, he said. Not increasing this further "would be a significant gesture which I think would have a big impact for a lot of retailers up and down the country".

He said: "We're not looking for handouts but we are looking for government to step in and support us to invest in jobs and high streets in Scotland.

"We have written to Mr Swinney about a freeze, we have met Scottish Government officials and we have pressed that point to them."

But he accepts that as Mr Swinney already pledged to match business rates poundage in England, a rates freeze is unlikely. Despite this, Mr Martin insists it would be an important step as he called on ministers to use the powers they have, rather than argue for further powers to be devolved.

© 2012 Press Association
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