Support needed to help retailers tackle crippling Hull business rates

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 26 Mar 2019

More support is needed to encourage big-name stores to open in the centre of Hull, a business expert has claimed.

Adrian Smith, founder of Adrian Smith Rating, said a scheme to help businesses cope with crippling business rates would help increase footfall in streets including Whitefriargate.

The city centre street has come under the spotlight in recent months, with big names including Marks & Spencer, Ann Summers and Boots among those to announce their exits.

Mr Smith said a regeneration rates relief scheme would be beneficial not only for larger names, but also independent businesses.

He said: “If a city or town centre is not stimulated by having some of the larger stores it will affect the prosperity of the smaller businesses which need help to get footfall through their doors, and that’s much more important than Small Business Rate Relief.

The former Bonmarche shop in Whitefriargate

“More should be done to give substantial rate relief to big names to encourage them to come in, bringing jobs and footfall and having a knock-on effect which will benefit small independent traders.”

Mr Smith also cited the difference between business rates paid by companies in large towns and cities, compared to those in rural areas.

He said there is now widespread recognition of the support for city centres and urban areas, and added the key questions were now how to address the problem, and how to pay for it.

Read more: How much it costs to open a shop in each empty city centre unit

He gave the example of an online sales warehouse in the Humber region being charged less than 75 per cent of the amount for a major department store in Hull, and less than 50 per cent of the figure for a store in Grimsby.

“The out-of-town warehouses also save money in other ways by having fewer sales staff and by not needing the wide range of facilities required in a city centre property,” Mr Smith said.

Watch: The challenge to save Whitefriargate

“How do city centre businesses compete? With Small Business Rate Relief applied to a rateable value of £12,000 a business would save £480 per month, but if a big store nearby closes it will cost more than that in lost footfall.

“A better idea would be to launch a City Centre Regeneration Rate Relief of around 50 per cent for shops, bars, restaurants and offices because they are all essential to a vibrant city centre business community.”

Read more: Boots issues statement as two Hull stores announce closure

Hull Live recently did a study on how much it would cost to open a business in an empty unit in the city centre.

In Whitefriargate, when combining business rates and rents, many of the retail spaces would set an owner back at least £50,000, with some rising as high as £73,000.

Mr Smith said: “Over the years various governments have tried various ideas to help small businesses, such as rates discounts for pubs and the payment of hardship relief through local authorities.

“But the amounts involved have been too small to make a lasting difference and there are already suggestions that the new post-Brexit fund will fall into the same category.”

“City Centre Regeneration Rate Relief would be a positive and productive way to help large and small city centre businesses and it could be paid for by introducing meaningful taxes for online businesses."

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