Firms' warning on business rates

BUSINESS leaders in Bury St Edmunds are calling for an end to being treated as “a bottomless pit of cash” as they brace themselves for the fall-out from the worldwide credit crunch.

BUSINESS leaders in Bury St Edmunds are calling for an end to being treated as “a bottomless pit of cash” as they brace themselves for the fall-out from the worldwide credit crunch.

The town's businesses are due to meet with council officials tomorrow night at an open consultation meeting hosted by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

Among the guest speakers at the meeting, which is for business ratepayers, is East of England Development Agency business development manager Lynn Morgan, who will be talking about the help available to businesses during the downturn.

Andrew Denny, vice chairman of Bury St Edmunds Chamber of Commerce and managing director of Fix-a-Form, part of stationery makers Denny Bros group, expected the meeting to be well attended.

“I think probably this time they are going to be genuinely interested in what businesses think. I think for a long time businesses have been seen almost like a bottomless pit of cash,” he said.

Names such as Woolworth's were disappearing from the high street, and other shops were moving and emptying, he pointed out.

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“We are going to see a lot of empty units in the town centre and I think suddenly, there's a realisation nothing can be taken for granted,” he said.

Businesses were paying 45% of their annual rateable value in business rates, he said. However, he acknowledged that this went to central government to be distributed, rather than to local authorities.

“That's whether the company is making money or not,” he said. “It's difficult to see that companies really get value for money for that.”

Chamber chairman Rick Wildridge said that his company, Haldo Developments, which makes a range of products including illuminated bollards, was paying around �80,000 a year in business rates, compared to just over half that about five or six years ago.

“We have had to absorb that. That's �1,500 a week before you do anything. Rates are obviously an issue for us. They are going up regardless of what your sales are doing,” he said.

Both Denny Bros and Haldo Developments have been able to buck the national trend and are faring relatively well during the downturn, the two men said.

Denny Bros's export market has benefited from the weak pound, while Haldo, which focuses heavily on research and development to develop new markets, has increased its turnover by 1% in 2008 compared to the previous year.

They also both praised St Edmundsbury for hosting the meeting which Mr Denny said was “an example of how keen they are to try and listen to business”.

The business ratepayers' consultation meeting, entitled Gearing Up for the Downturn, takes place at the Athenaeum, Angel Hill, from 6pm.