HELP for Britain’s ailing high streets should be a top priority for MPs in 2013, the retail industry’s trade body said yesterday.

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The British Retail Consortium (BRC) called on MPs to step up the pressure on the Government to reverse a planned 2.6% increase in business rates due in April.

Its demand comes in the wake of recent figures showing that the empty shops rate in town centres has reached a new high of 11.3%. A poll of MPs also revealed that two-thirds believe high streets in their constituencies have deteriorated noticeably over the last five years.

BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: “MPs understand that high streets are focal points for communities and essential to local economies.

“But many high streets are facing a real endurance test in these challenging times, and rising operating costs are making matters worse.”

Rates have risen by more than 10% in the last two years, adding more than £500million to retailers’ overheads amid the tough trading conditions.

The BRC is running a campaign called Fair Rates for Retail in a bid to establish a more sustainable formula. Next April’s 2.6% rise is based on September’s Retail Prices Index inflation figure.

Ms Dickinson said: “I urge MPs to keep pushing for change if they want to breathe life back into our town centres and preserve and protect local businesses.”

Another rise in rates would pose a serious threat to vulnerable town centres and mean fewer jobs, especially for young people, she added.

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