Mary Portas the Government “High Street Czar” waded back into the high street and business rates debate with accusations of “token gestures” yesterday; whilst Penny Mordant the DCLG Communities Minister responded by defended Government’s record on supporting the high street and, in particular, small business: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30480438 .
All of this is very interesting but the critical questions remain whether the rate review promised for 2016 in the Autumn Budget Statement will result in radical, wholesale reform, as many in business, local government and elsewhere now demand, or just a tweaking and tidying up that ultimately generates much the same revenue for financially hard pressed Central Government? It should of course be noted that the review by rights was due to have taken place several years ago but was postponed until no later than 2017; so the announcement is more a confirmation of intent, than it is a new commitment. Comment on the Autumn Statement and business rate announcements can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30315110 .
Meanwhile the devolution to Wales of business rates announced a year ago starts to have its effect with the money raised being a major part of the “extra” £123m of funding announced in the Autumn Statement for the Welsh Assembly for next year. What effect the devolution of business rates will have on the review in Wales and whether potentially different approaches to the review and potentially different solutions in England and Wales will have any significant impact on the process and outcomes in either or both nations remains to be seen: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-30298572 .
The original 2011 Portas Review report can be accessed via the Britishdestinations.net page: https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/the-portas-review-2011/
Why is any of this import for tourism? Retail, property occupation and its usage and ultimately the look and the feel of the high street, whether it’s in a village, town or City plays a critical part in the sense of place and the experience of both residents and, critically for us, of the visitors. Few if any “destinations”, including the most rural, don’t have one or more high street of some major importance to the visitor economy. The tourism industry, or more accurately the visitor economy, might not be best placed to lead the debate on business rates and the review but it would be reckless of it not to take a strong interest in the review or not to try to ensure that its direction supports the best interests of the businesses that typically make up a successful visitor destination.
British Destinations are working to ensure that the importance of a sector/industry input into the review process is not lost on our strategic national partners and on our peer industry trade associations. At some point between now and 2016, so effectively 2015, similar local engagement and debate might prove useful locally and helpful nationally? The business rate review might not be a key priority on the tourism industry’s pre general election lobbying agenda but it is one still worth chucking in whenever the opportunity arises. A big thank you to Mary Portas for reigniting the business rate debate and in doing so creating just one such opportunity.