Business rates are not perfect as they rely upon the rentable value of the building, not the land it is upon. But they are the closest we've got to a good tax, a land value tax. Meaning that if we're going to have a debate about rates and the current revaluation then it would be a good idea if we all understood them:
April’s new business rates will be the final nail in the coffin for many small shops. A re-evaluation means that overall high-street retailers will need to find an estimated extra £125m to pay increased rates (according to business rent and rates specialist CVS). This lumbers the average small shop with an extra £3,663 added to its rates bill and, as I can attest, there aren’t many that are going to be able to pick up their pricing guns with a devil-may-care shrug and get back to work.
No, in anything other than the shortest of terms it will be landlords who pick up £125 million less in rent a year. For rates are incident upon said landlords and their rent, not the occupiers of the premises. We know this very well- those 80s special development areas were free of rates for a time, rents rose as a result.
If you happen to be trading in a property hot spot (and, indeed, your brilliant business may have contributed to the success of that place, as in Southwold and Port Isaac, areas with notably good independent shops that will be hit by rate hikes), or big brands have arrived and now surround your enterprise, then your valuation goes up and you find yourself catapulted out of the small business relief zone.
Yes, that's the point. There's a limited supply of land in those hot spots, taxing that land is the least distortionary tax that we have. It's a good tax. And note what is being taxed - that the other people around that property are adding value to it.
But the revaluation works for the online retail giants. According to CVS analysis, the nine Amazon distribution centres in England and Wales will be able to knock £148,000 off their property tax liabilities this year (despite annual sales in excess of £6bn). Similarly, fashion retailer Boohoo gets 13% knocked off the bill for its distribution centre in Burnley; so it goes on.
Quite so, this is what we want to happen. There's a limited demand for chi chi shopfronts in Burnley and there's lots of land. Thus we tax the use of low value land more lightly than the use of high value land.
So the true value of the high street remains undervalued, fiscally and culturally.
Which is to miss the point so badly it's like watching England try to pass the ball on the weekend. The exact thing which is being taxed is that value of the High Street. Because that's how the tax is calculated, the value that being on the High Street adds to a particular property for use as a retail or any other business use.
And if we're not going to understand these basics about business rates then we're never going to be able to have a reasoned discussion about them, are we?