Lord Tebbit joins backlash against business rates revaluation


The backlash against the Government's controversial business rates revaluation continued with a former Tory Cabinet minister demanding action to help firms faced with soaring bills.

Former trade secretary Lord Tebbit suggested a high-level committee of Cabinet ministers should meet to consider how to alleviate the problem.

Ministers are under pressure over the proposals to update business rates for the first time in seven years, which are set to come into force in April.

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit told the Daily Telegraph the situation was "not something you can give an easy, short answer to because there are many factors involved in it, particularly changes in the structure of industry.

"For example, (there are) a number of retailers now who can't move because they have got shops in the high street as opposed to online retailers who can move and take advantage of lower rate areas.

"What would be appropriate probably would be to have a Cabinet committee looking at it with the relevant secretaries of state ... to come forward with thoughts on how the thing might be alleviated."

Labour former business secretary Dame Margaret Beckett and a Liberal Democrat former holder of the role Sir Vince Cable also expressed concerns.

"The business rates system is deeply flawed in all kinds of different ways. It is not an ideal basis for taxation," Sir Vince said.

Dame Margaret urged a reassessment of the economic impact of Tory taxation policy in the wake of the Brexit vote.

"Based on a number of decisions they are making on business and domestic [tax] rates, they should take a careful look at the overall impact of what they are doing," she told the Telegraph.

The Government's has sought to blame ratings agents for the row over the revaluation, insisting that the majority of firms will not face an increase in their bills.

Treasury Chief Secretary David Gauke said the out-of-date rates needed to brought in line with property values and that three in four businesses would not see an increase in their tax bill.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is right that we bring it up to date.

"It is also right that there is transitional support for the one in four businesses that are seeing an increase in their business rates and we have got a £3.6 million transitional package to smooth that increase.

"It is right that we bring business rates values up to date to reflect current rental values."

His comments came after influential trade organisations, including the British Retail Consortium, wrote to the Government to call for a rethink on plans to tighten the appeals process, making it more difficult for firms to challenge unfair increases in their business rates.

Mr Gauke said the aim was to crack down on speculative appeals which were "clogging up the system", often brought by no-win no-fee claimants. 

He said: "Nobody is going to be stopped from appealing.

"We have to recognise what is currently happening in the system is that there are a huge number of very speculative appeals that are going in, first encouraged by agencies on a no-win no-fee basis, chancing their arm hoping that there will be a reduction in their business rates.

"That is frankly clogging up the system and getting in the way of appeals for those who have a genuine problem, where maybe there has been a mistake or an error, and that process is much slower than it should be."