By Emma Brennan
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
A BOOKSHOP owner who has been trading for 40 years has persuaded an MP to take up his fight for drastic changes to the business rates system.
Ian Berry, of Kestrel Bookshop in Sudbury, first contacted South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo in 2009, because he believes the method used by the Government’s Valuation Office Agency for assessing shops for rates is “inequitable”.
Mr Yeo has now agreed to visit the town in April to meet other shopkeepers who are also concerned that an unfair rating system is killing their chances of competing with out-of-town superstores.
Mr Berry said: “I have done extensive research into business rates across the country and there needs to be a radical change, not just scratching the surface with a 5% drop – it’s the system that is wrong.
“The problem is that out-of-town supermarkets and DIY stores don’t go under the same rating system as town centre shops. They are classed as industrial buildings or warehouses and are assessed in a completely different way to us.
“This means that in Sudbury (town centre), the average rateable value per square metre is seven times what Tesco (on the outskirts of town) pays. The argument is that we are aiming for different markets but that is not the case.”
According to Mr Berry, a shop in Sudbury that has been empty for more than a year has a rateable value of £350 per sq m, whereas an out-of-town supermarket has a rateable value of £38 per sq m.
He continued: “I’ve been trading for 40 years and it gets tiresome having people like Mary Portas telling us why we are all going bust. The main problem is obvious – we simply cannot compete with the superstores when they pay peanuts for business rates.”
Mr Yeo said business rates were clearly a “very serious problem” in towns across Suffolk and Essex. He said the visit to Sudbury would serve as an “evidence gathering” mission, adding: “I want to talk to a good cross-section of traders to establish how much they have suffered as a result of business rates during the last four to five years. In order for me to take this to the Treasury, I have to prove that the situation has become significantly more burdensome.
“I am extremely sympathetic to the plight of business-owners and I am keen to get actual figures to back up the case.”
Last June, another Sudbury and Colchester businessman John Taylor wrote to Mr Yeo, who put his rate-relief idea to the Government Treasury.