Business rates are universally unpopular with firms. They are often the third most significant overhead, and are fixed, regardless of how well or badly a business is doing. So in a recession, business rates can help push a firm over the edge.
Small businesses feel the pinch most. And as many point out to me, they get nothing in return for their rates, not even their bins emptied.
That’s why I have been campaigning to help small business get relief from the burden of rates. Last year we posted an online tool to help small firms claim up to £1,100 relief.
Amazingly, half of the eligible firms weren’t claiming this relief. Why? Well most businesses I spoke to told me that they either didn’t know it existed, or had found the red tape too much.
So the online tool I put on our website enabled those businesses to quickly put in their details and then get an immediate response as to whether they are eligible and how much they might save.
To date several thousand hits on the site suggest that many firms have made good use of this tool. I also know that many Conservative councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates have used this tool to help their local businesses. Indeed when I launched the tool in Cheltenham with Mark Coote we immediately identified half a dozen firms who would benefit.
Recently, my good friend Peter Luff MP, chairman of the BERR Select Committee, took up the cause and ably presented a Private Members Bill to reform the law on Friday March 6th. Interestingly the Government Minister was at best lukewarm in response. They would look at the issue. In due course. Hopefully.
Well small business doesn’t need to wait on half promises and spin from Labour. The Conservatives are going to act.
In Government we would seek to make this relief automatic. That means scrapping the forms and bureaucracy of handling thousands of claims. It also means providing the help straight away, helping cut the fixed overheads of small businesses each and every year.
When taken alongside our plans to cut small company corporation tax rates and reduce the payroll taxes of the smallest employers, this measure is another sign that, as a party, Conservatives are on the side of enterprise.