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South London’s independent high streets have had a hard time of late. Southern Rail Strikes have shut down stations like Balham and Clapham Junction, preventing shoppers and employees from getting in or out, and now Sajid Javid has announced an overhaul of the business rates system. London retailers are set to suffer huge hikes in their business rates and may have to fork out almost a third more than before. Here is everything you need to know about the new rates and how you can help keep your local high street on its feet.
What’s happening to rates?
From April 1st, almost 2 million British properties will be valued based on 2015 rental values, rather than their 2008 values. Businesses in London can expect retail rates bills to increase by an estimated 14% as compared to a 5% fall for England in total.
Why are these changes so problematic for your local independent businesses?
The new rates treat businesses the same, irrespective of profit or importance to the community, predominantly on the rental value of surrounding properties. This is a massive incentive to any building owner to get out of high tax commercial and into low tax residential. Simon Jenkins of the Evening Standard called the measures, “a bullet in the head of our high streets”.
These changes favour online giants over “bricks and mortar” retail and fail to deal with companies – Asos, Boohoo, Amazon – that don’t rely on the high-street to sell their wares. Michael Savage of The Times predicts that Amazon’s business rates will fall at 6 of its 9 major distribution centres, leaving the company in a better state whilst independent businesses struggle.
How will this affect your local high street?
Most British companies with properties with a rateable value of more than £15,000 will face soaring rates bills. The forecast is uncertain, but here is what we know. Analysts say the rates, added to upwards-only rent reviews from big landlords, could see scores of shops and restaurants go out of business.
At Natures Purest, on Balham High Road, they’re rising by a staggering 26%. Owner Elizabeth Jones has been trading at the shop for just over two-and-a-half years now. She has regular customers who support the shop and love the products, but feels her business is still getting established and is still being discovered by new people on a daily basis. Local regulars have kept the shop here during this incredibly tough time.
Businesses in London could be forced to stump up an extra £4bn over the next five years. Last month, The Independent revealed that fewer than half of the UK’s small and medium-sized businesses believe they will grow in 2017.
What can you do to help your local businesses?
You can get out there, shop local and support your high street. Supporting your local independent businesses is more important now than ever.
Archie Fitzherbert co-founded Voucher Local, a platform set up to promote the best independent businesses in Wandsworth and Clapham. The community platform offers incentives to residents to buy from their local independent retailers. Speaking about the ways to combat the rates hike, he said “FSB figures show that if each Wandsworth household spent just £10 per month in a local independent business, rather than chains, it would inject over £15m per year into the local economy – and that’s just in one London Borough!”
Dan Watkins, a local business owner and head of Love Your Local Shops is another resident seeking to keep South London’s high streets alive. He said, “It’s important that the authorities keep small business taxes at a modest rate so that they operate profitably and invest in the future.
“But on top of that we need residents to get behind their local shops, pubs and restaurants and give them their custom, ensuring that these small retailers continue to brighten up our High Streets.”
For this reason he’s taking Love Your Local Shops into its 5th year, giving residents a platform to vote for their favourite ‘independents’ shops across Wandsworth and giving local businesses publicity for the diverse range of goods and excellent services they provide.
The story of one local resident who is championing independent shopping…
Catherine Deptford is a local mother who has worked as a writer, TV presenter and in The City. Now she has committed to a 12 week ‘Ditch the Chains’ local shopping initiative.
Buying only from independent shops in Wandsworth, Catherine aims to raise awareness of the importance of supporting local business. Over three months, She hopes to inspire other local residents to take on a similar commitment towards changing their shopping habits.
Styling herself Mrs Nightingale, after both the famous nurse who helped those in need and the eponymous road connecting the commons of Wandsworth and Clapham, Catherine is writing a weekly blog about her experiences, which you can find on the Voucher Local website.
Catherine has hit Week 8 of the challenge. Read an excerpt from Week 5 below.
The highlights from the first month’s audit reveal interesting numbers. Everyone is assuming that this is more expensive than supermarket shopping. The trouble is you cannot compare, as it is not like with like, the change in habits means that I am buying much less and we are wasting much less. We are eating seasonally and although there are many purchases of loo paper from the chemist, dishwasher tablets and tins from the corner shop, that are way more expensive, the fruit and veg is cheaper and better quality, the supermarkets simply do not compare in this department!
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