One of Britain’s biggest shopkeepers has joined the call for Tory leadership candidates to prioritise a shake-up of ‘outdated’ business rates.
Iceland boss Richard Walker urged the next prime minister to promise a ‘root and branch’ reform of the tax.
He said the levy is penalising bricks and mortar retailers and, without a fundamental change, the High Street will ‘continue to decline’.
Plea: Iceland boss Richard Walker urged the next prime minister to promise a ‘root and branch’ reform of the tax
His intervention follows similar calls from a consortium of retailers – the Retail Jobs Alliance (RJI) – which includes Tesco, Sainsbury’s and B&Q owner Kingfisher.
RJI members employ more than a million people – a third of all jobs in the sector. And last week it accused Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss of ‘failing to prioritise the High Street’.
Business rates are based on rental value not profit. Walker said reform is especially important as hard-pressed shoppers turn to discount retailers such as Iceland, which has close to 1,000 stores around the UK.
Iceland has locked the price of its £1 value range until 2023 – meaning it now sells the products at a loss.
Walker said: ‘Our business rates bill is well over £40m a year. It’s just unfair. You have massive online businesses who are getting a piggyback for free.’
He pointed out that online giants benefit from the same infrastructure as brick and mortar retailers but do not pay a fair share of the tax that funds it.
Walker said business rates reform would also encourage more retailers to open businesses. This would revitalise town and city centres. Front-runner Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has promised to ‘cut taxes from day one’ if she becomes PM, while former chancellor Sunak would scrap VAT on fuel.
He has otherwise avoided promising tax cuts but at the weekend unveiled a plan to revitalise high streets and reduce shuttered shops.
Walker said candidates should focus on business rates as they will have a bigger impact on jobs, productivity and levelling up.
He added that businesses were happy paying back the Government’s generosity, having been helped through the pandemic.
Walker said: ‘I think it’s right we call out that a few percentage points increase in corporation tax is not a big deal.
‘In return it’s absolutely about jobs, productivity, levelling up and high streets which need business rates reform.’