FSB Wales response to Welsh Government. Business Rate Relief for Charities, Social Enterprises and Credit Unions

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1 FSB Wales response to Welsh Government Business Rate Relief for Charities, Social Enterprises and Credit Unions 28 th June 2013

2 Business Rate Relief for Charities, Social Enterprises and Credit Unions Recommendations from an independent report to the Welsh Government The Federation of Small Businesses Wales The Federation of Small Businesses Wales welcomes the opportunity to present its views to the Welsh Government on the non-domestic rating system in Wales. FSB Wales is the authoritative voice of small businesses in Wales. With 10,000 members, a Welsh Policy Unit, two regional committees and twelve branch committees; FSB Wales is in constant contact with small businesses at a grassroots level. It undertakes a monthly online survey of its members as well as an annual membership survey on a wide range of issues and concerns facing small business. Introduction For many members of the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, the non-domestic rates or business rates system is the principal concern when discussing public policy. While it is not always the main cost (indeed, businesses that do not occupy property do not pay towards it at all) it is often seen as the outgoing that is most directly attributable to government (see Figure 1). So, while costs on wages and rent remained subject to market forces, the cost of business rates has a visible link with government. Figure 1 Q26. Thinking now about the major costs that your business incurs, please rank the three highest business costs from the list presented below. Base: 114. May 2013 Wages 48% Energy bills 19% Debt servicing Business rates Insurances Rent Permits/ licences from a regulator or the local authority 10% 8% 7% 5% 3% It is also fundamental to discussions regarding the future of town centres in Wales. There is consensus emerging that towns need to be versatile and flexible to adapt to the changes in consumer behaviour that have rocked traditional town centres. FSB Wales members frequently see business rates as a key lever in this debate (see Figure 2); leaving little doubt as to its importance in determining economic development policies. 2

3 Figure 2 FSB Wales Regeneration Survey. December answered question 361 The Devolution of Business Rates The Welsh Government established its Business Rate Task and Finish Group on 2 November 2011 and tasked it with leading a short, sharp and robust review into business rates and how they could be reformed. 2 FSB Wales welcomed the review, despite concerns about the Group s narrow terms of reference and has largely welcomed the recommendations of the report published May Unfortunately, of the 19 recommendations in the original report few have been implemented, despite eminently sensible suggestions. For example, the Group s suggestion on local retention would have given local authorities an incentive to encourage local economic growth. While reforms have gathered pace to this effect in England, Wales retains a model of business rates largely unreformed since devolution. The reason for this lack of implementation is clear from Recommendation 1 of the Group s report that calls for the full devolution of the non-domestic rating system to Wales. In response to the suggested reform to enable local retention (Recommendation 2), the Welsh Government said that: 1 FSB Wales Vibrant and Viable Places: FSB Wales Submission to Welsh Government [Online]. Available at: (accessed 27 th June 2013). 2 Minister for Business, Enterprise, Science and Technology Review of business rates policy in Wales is launched [Online]. Available at: (accessed 24 June 2013). 3

4 ...the decision on whether or not to proceed with this is dependent on whether business rates are devolved to Wales. 3 Interestingly, despite the proviso that the business rate system is not devolved, the Welsh Government has forged ahead with the creation of rate relief for enterprise zones without any complication around the devolution settlement. There has also been piecemeal devolution via amendments to UK Parliament Bills to enable the Minister for Business to decide on what date revaluation should take place; again without a great deal of complication. Meanwhile, in response to very similar issues raised by Welsh MPs, the Prime Minister recently said: I have every sympathy with the business my hon. Friend mentions. Of course, business rates are a devolved issue, so this is something that needs to be taken up with the Welsh Assembly Government. In England we have doubled small business rate relief to help half a million small firms, made it easier for small firms and shops to claim small business rate relief and given local councils new powers to levy local business rate discounts, for example to support the sorts of shops and pubs he refers to. I think that is the right approach for England and I am sure he will want to take that case to Wales. 4 Clearly, the business rates system in Wales is in flux and neither government is willing to take full responsibility. This leads to uncertainty, particularly around the future of Small Business Rate Relief in Wales. Uncertainty is damaging for businesses and can often lead to investment decisions being deferred. Although it is 19 months since the original review was commissioned and a year since its recommendations were announced, the reforms proposed by the Task and Finish Group are yet to be implemented. Furthermore, the current consultation document states: However, it is worth emphasising that many of our recommendations particularly those linked to tax avoidance and zoning will require detailed discussions between the Welsh Government and the UK Government before they can be implemented. 5 This suggests that while the consultation is important, there is an element of doubt as to whether its recommendations would be implemented given the current state of flux in the business rate system in Wales. While the issue of rate relief for charity shops is significant, FSB Wales calls on the Welsh Government to focus its priorities on the full implementation of the report authored by Professor Brian Morgan, entitled Business Rates Wales Review: Incentivising Growth, to give local authorities an incentive to encourage growth. This should form part of a two stage process; firstly to reform 3 Welsh Government Welsh Government Response to the Business Rates Review [Online]. Available at: (accessed 24 June 2013) P.6 4 Rt Hon David Cameron MP at Questions to the Prime Minister [Online]. Available at: (accessed 16 t April 2013). 5 Welsh Government. Consultation Document. Available at: (accessed 24 June 2013) P. 19, 4

5 local business taxation and then to examine how a fairer, more progressive system can be put in place that encourages economic growth. Charity Shop Rate Relief Focusing on the principal aim of the consultation, FSB Wales largely agrees with the recommendations set out by the Task and Finish Group. However, there are a number of issues that need to be clarified in implementation. Ultimately, the tax burden for charity retail is a political decision but FSB Wales would encourage a wider debate on town centre regeneration and would suggest that good business taxation should seek to remove market distortions where possible. Is rateable value a good determinant? The current rate relief regime for charity retail provides a significant incentive for occupation of premises irrespective of their size or location. In effect, the influence of rateable value as a determinant for taxation costs are minimal when compared to commercial operations as Figures 3 and 4 highlight. Figure 3 Current liability by rateable value 5

6 Figure 4 In essence, when the effects of Small Business Rate Relief are not present (above 12,000 RV) charity retail enjoys 20 per cent of the liability a private business would experience. Below 12,000 RV the SBRR scheme levels the playing field. This highlights that the effects of the SBRR scheme and the Charity Retail Scheme should not be taken in isolation and any future reductions in SBRR could bring about greater distortion, despite the suggested measures being in place. Using the average rateable values provided in the consultation document for Cardiff and Conwy we can see that the current policy will illicit different competitive distortions because of its universal, property-based approach. Therefore, the average charity shop in Conwy at 11,854 RV will have less of an advantage due to the impact of SBRR than their average counterpart in Cardiff at 19,152 RV. Therefore, the local impact of reforms are likely to be varied. This serves to highlight that reforms to relief cannot happen in isolation. If the desired impact is to encourage town centre regeneration and to avoid clustering of charity retail then reforms to incentivise local retention must also take place. For this reason, the Group s suggestion in Recommendation 9 that charitable reliefs should be left to the discretion of the local authorities as far as possible is well founded. Local discretion via retention and the ability to use greater discretionary reliefs would allow local authorities to be responsive to instances of clustering and would remove a one size fits all approach to town centre regeneration. 6

7 Impact on rents FSB Wales welcomes the Group s identification of rental pressures in relation to charity retail relief and believes the measures presented will go some way to addressing this issue. That said, a wider discussion is needed on the impact and relation of rents to rateable value. This is particularly pertinent given the Welsh Government s decision to postpone revaluation to 2015 (to come into effect 2017). This extension will lead to a weakening of the link between rents and rateable value as rateable value increases on RPI measures while rents respond more closely to market forces. Full participation in BIDs Business Improve Districts provide both advantages and disadvantages to small businesses in town and city centres. While there is frequently a danger of paying twice for local services, BIDs do provide an opportunity for private sector direction of resources and encourage debate amongst all parties concerned. FSB Wales therefore agrees that charity retail should play a role in BIDs where possible. That said there is a danger that charity retail has all the benefits of BIDs without having to contribute financially. For this reason, charity retail should contribute to BIDs in at least the same way as small businesses operating on the SBRR scheme. This would serve to avoid creating additional distortions but would also highlight the contribution charity retail makes in town and city centres. The Welsh Government s proposals The Task and Finish Group has identified a number of reforms that would remove some of the distortions in the current relief regime. The suggestion is that by creating a cumulative relief system, essentially one that creates a business rates allowance, relief will still be given to all charity retail outlets. The effect of the proposals on rate liability is as follows: 7

8 Figure 5 Proposed liability by rateable value Figure 6 The creation of a cumulative relief system would introduce an element of progressivity in that it slowly reduces the amount of relief larger charity retail outlets are eligible to receive (when taken as a percentage of a comparable business liability) up to a constant rate of 10,022 at 36,000 rateable value and above. As rateable value increases, this becomes a less significant portion of outgoings and reduces as a percentage of a business liability. This is to be welcomed; however there are other issues that should be considered around this. 8

9 For instance, the calculation of business rate liability is already seen as a complicated issue for many businesses. They often see it as arbitrary and not reflective of performance. Adding an additional system that is based on cumulative relief for one section of the non-domestic community presents dangers in adding additional layers of complexity to an already complex system. Essentially, creating additional cumulative relief would play to the worst elements of this property based system. This could have a detrimental impact on the calculation and administration of the business rate tax base. Monitoring of new good sales Recommendation 10 relates to the monitoring of new goods sales in charity retail. This is a particularly vexatious issue for FSB Wales members who often find themselves in direct competition with charity retail in terms of new goods. The Task and Finish Group has correctly identified the seasonal nature of new product sales and the variation in new product sales amongst different organisations. FSB Wales is of the view that encouraging the Charity Retail Association to police new goods would be unreasonable. Firstly, there is little reason to believe the Charity Retail Association has the capacity in Wales to actively police this; the consultation document suggest the CRA are not sure how many charity shops there actually are in Wales. 6 Furthermore, one can question the legitimacy of an organisation set out to represent the interests of charity retail in fulfilling this role. Alternatively, local authorities may be better placed to carry out this activity. Bringing long-term empty property into use Recommendations 4 and 5 would provide incentives for the occupation of town centre retail units that have been vacant for a significant amount of time. FSB Wales largely welcomes these recommendations. Anecdotal evidence from the Northern Ireland scheme suggests that on the whole the effect has been beneficial. Reforms in Northern Ireland were also accompanied by a limited change in the definition of empty for rate liability purposes. This allowed shop windows to be used for hoardings, placards, boards, notices or awnings that are employed wholly for the purpose of (non-political) community, artistic or other non-commercial purposes. This has encouraged local authorities to place banners and posters in empty shop windows, thereby reducing the negative feel of vacant premises on town centres. A notable example of this can be seen in Fermanagh, where the change has been used by the District Council to improve the look of Enniskillen and other towns. That said, it is difficult to quantify this impact and FSB Northern Ireland suggest take-up of the relief for actual re-occupation of empty premises has been limited to date. Similarly, the Scottish Fresh Start Scheme has also been broadly welcomed but it is too early to determine whether the impact of its implementation has been beneficial. A consistent theme in both cases is the lack of comparable data on town centres, meaning there is a great deal of difficulty in providing analysis around issues such as vacancy rates and rental levels in town centres. While moves to encourage occupancy in town centres via business rates incentives are to be welcomed; 6 Ibid. P.9 9

10 the Welsh Government must ensure this forms part of the wider town centre regeneration debate, including issues such as planning. Conclusion Regenerating Wales town centres is of paramount concern to FSB Wales members. The business rates system plays a fundamental role in this debate. FSB Wales would like to see the recommendations of the original report implemented to enable local incentives for growth amongst businesses in Wales. This must be of prime importance in moving forward reform of the business rates system in Wales. While it is a secondary issue in the reform of business rates, the implementation of the Task and Finish Group s recommendations on charity retail and other measures would go some way towards promoting vibrant and viable town centres. FSB Wales is therefore supportive of the principles set out by the Welsh Government in the consultation document. However, this issue should be considered as part of the wider reform of the business rate system in Wales. 10

11 Contact: Federation of Small Businesses WALES OFFICE 1 Cleeve House Lambourne Crescent Llanishen CARDIFF CF14 5GP Telephone: Web: The Federation of Small Businesses The FSB is non-profit making and non-party political. The Federation of Small Businesses is the UK's largest campaigning pressure group promoting and protecting the interests of the selfemployed and owners of small firms. Formed in 1974, it now has 200,000 members across 33 regions and 194 branches. Lobbying Our lobbying arm - led by the Westminster Press and Parliamentary office - applies pressure on MPs, Government and Whitehall and puts the FSB viewpoint over to the media. The FSB also has Press and Parliamentary Offices in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast to lobby the devolved assemblies. Development Managers work alongside members in our regions to further FSB influence at a regional level. Member Benefits In addition, Member Services is committed to delivering a wide range of high quality, good value business services to members of the FSB. These services will be subject to continuing review and will represent a positive enhancement to the benefit of membership of the Leading Business Organisation in the UK. Vision A community that recognises, values and adequately rewards the endeavours of those who are self employed and small business owners within the UK The Federation of Small Businesses is the trading name of the National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses Limited. Our registered office is Sir Frank Whittle Way, Blackpool Business Park, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY4 2FE. Our company number is and our Data Protection Act registration number is Z We are a non-profit making organisation and we have registered with the Information Commissioner on a voluntary basis. Associate Companies We have two associated companies, FSB (Member Services) Limited (company number and Data Protection Act registration number Z ) and NFSE Sales Limited (company number and Data Protection Act registration number Z ). 11

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