The Welsh government needs to do more to support businesses owners in order to save the country’s high streets.
This is according to the Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC), voicing its concerns about the recent rise in business rates in Wales.
It stated that Welsh stores have seen the greatest increase in Britain, resulting in a drop in the number of shops of nine per cent since 2010, reported the BBC.
Indeed, there were 1,100 fewer stores in Wales in 2018 than there were eight years ago, with steep business rates being one of the main reasons for this.
Head of the WRC Sara Jones told the BBC: “With declining footfall to our Welsh shopping destinations continuing to cause a major headache for retailers, and with shop vacancy levels amongst the highest in the UK, we need urgent action.”
On Monday (April 1st), the new 2019/2020 business rate came into effect, resulting in an increase in taxes for those that are not eligible for relief schemes.
While the Welsh government claims more than three-quarters of businesses have received financial support of some sort and over half are exempt from the levy, the WRC insists business rates are still a big problem for shop owners.
Ms Jones asserts that rates should instead be frozen this year before being lowered in a bid to help businesses in Wales, reflecting the assistance the Scottish government has given to stores north of the border.
There, business rates increase at a rate below inflation, providing relief to many storeowners in the country and encouraging business to prosper.
As business rates were devolved to Wales in 2015, the government needs to make changes to the tax specific to the needs of Welsh businesses.
Ms Jones told the news provider: “It’s time our own decision makers here in Wales recognise that further shop closures will be inevitable in 2019 without urgent reform of this outdated business tax.”
One move that will help many retailers in the country is the additional financial support of £23.6 million, which the business rate relief scheme accounts for. While this will help 15,000 small and medium-sized shops to pay the levy over the next year, more needs to be done to support the high street in general.
Someone who has first-hand experience of Wales’ harsh business rates is Paul Thomas, who owns A Better World Comics and Games in Merthyr Tydfil, saying the tax has become “astronomical”.
Unable to afford the business rates for the town centre, he cannot move his store to the area where there would be a greater footfall for his business.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also spoken out about the rise in business rates, saying they are stifling the high street. It stated that storeowners carry the burden of taxes, which is, subsequently, preventing retail tech investment from occurring.
“Retail accounts for five per cent of the economy, yet pays ten per cent of all business taxes and a staggering 25 per cent of business rates. This is simply not sustainable; the raft of shop closures and job losses are testament to that,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson stated.
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