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Call for business rates to be scrapped

Business rates should be scrapped and local authorities should be handed a swathe of new powers to revitalise struggling town centres, a major new review has urged.

Bill Grimsey, the former Wickes and Iceland boss, today published a follow-up to his 2013 report on the British high street.

He called for business rates to be scrapped and replaced - perhaps by a sales tax - describing the current system as a ‘monolithic giant that needs to be strangled’.

Mr Grimsey also recommended that councils establish an ‘empowered organisation or town centre commission under strong established leadership’.

Speaking to The MJ, he said the retail sector was restructuring dramatically with the fall of several household names, such as Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us, in the first half of this year.

Mr Grimsey continued: ‘We are reaching a tipping point for the high street driven by technology and lifestyle.

‘We have to create an economic blueprint done locally through something like a town centre commission, driven by local authorities - not by Westminster.

‘Where a place has strong leadership that will make a huge difference. It is quite clear we need an individual in the location that has a mandate to form a commission and drive it through as a business.’

Mr Grimsey’s review proposed repurposing town centres as ‘community hubs’ rather than focusing on bricks and mortar retail.

A separate report by the Centre for Cities think-tank last week made similar demands for city centres to be reimagined.

Chief executive Andrew Carter said: ‘We need to reimagine struggling city centres as places where lots of different businesses can locate and create jobs – and where lots of people want to go to for a variety of reasons.

‘This means reducing the reliance on shops and focusing on creating a more attractive environment for a wider range of firms.

‘We also need to make our high streets more open and appealing spaces for people to spend time or live in, by improving public realm and transport links, and potentially introducing more housing.’