8 Oct 2014

£1.8million a year for local shops?

Small independent retailers in St Albans district could be in line for substantial new support from a new levy on the biggest stores and supermarkets.

Councillors in St Albans are to debate whether to support a nationwide move that would allow councils to raise a levy on the largest retailers in their area. The proposed levy would be up to 8.5% of rates. It would be payable only by retailers with a rateable value over £500,000. The money would have to be spent to support local independent businesses.

I'm proposing the idea to a Full Council meeting on 15 October. The levy could raise around £1.8 million a year from the 16 largest retailers, that could help cut small shops' rates or reinvigorate local shopping areas.

This should go some way to level the playing field for independent or family-run shops that are threatened by the mega-retailers in the district.

Independent traders pay business rates that are a far higher proportion of their turnover than the warehouse chains do. Yet research shows that half the money spent in independent shops stays in the local economy, while for supermarkets it's just 5%. The rest is sucked out of the area.

The Government is currently considering an application by 20 English councils for the levy to become possible. Other councils, such as St Albans, are being invited to support the proposal. The levy is already up and running in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The levy would be a drop in the ocean for these retail chains - it's a tiny fraction of the millions they give up in their weekly price wars with each other. But the money would make a huge difference to our struggling local retailers.

The full text of the motion is here.

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