Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced his final pre-Brexit Budget on Monday 29 October, including:
- £30bn for motorway and pothole repairs
- Additional £2bn for mental health
- A further £650m for councils struggling to cope with rising social care bills
- And a financial package which will include £900m in business rates relief for nearly 500,000 small businesses, and a pot of £650m to rejuvenate high streets and their transport links.
In an effort to reverse the decline of town centres, the Treasury’s new business rates relief is targeted at small retailers and could knock a third off their bills. To qualify as a small retailer, business premises must have a rateable value of £51,000 or less – so this will affect a large number of businesses in Bedford Borough.
The £650m injection, to be introduced over the next four years and called the Future High Streets Fund, allows towns and cities to “redevelop under-used retail space into homes and offices, providing help to restore High Street properties and put historic buildings back into use”.
Is this good news for Bedford?
While BedfordBID, who work to promote town centre businesses via Love Bedford, welcomed the Business Rate relief for small businesses, Director Christina Rowe stated that it was the responsibility of individual business owners to keep an eye on what the changes will mean to them. “We will be issuing advice as the situation becomes clear over the coming weeks and months,” she said. “People can always appeal their business rates and have them re-assessed – it is in fact a wise decision to do this as it is highly complex system with differing rates of different floor spaces.”
Mohammad Yasin MP was less welcoming of the news. ‘If the measures do fully compensate local authorities for their losses then these savings for small businesses should be welcomed, but it’s too late for the many companies that have already gone under, and people need money in their pockets to spend for local businesses to really thrive – there’s still not enough government action on wage stagnation. In fact according to the OBR UK wages won’t return to their pre- financial crisis peak until at least 2024. That’s 16 years until pay is fully recovered – the longest wage slump in 200 years.
The poorest people in Bedford Borough won’t see a meaningful change to their financial circumstances either, as all benefits remain frozen as the cost of living continues to rise.
Potholes got more money than schools which were tossed a paltry sum for ‘little extras’, when they can’t even afford the basics. It’s an insult.
Local authorities are still facing another round of damaging cuts and there’s nothing for community policing despite warnings that the Police are ‘drifting into irrelevance’”.
However, the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Ryan Henson welcomed the Business Rate cuts and additional local government funding, saying, “Our town centre clearly needs a boost, and this business rate cut will help deliver that, so I think it’s really positive news – for shoppers and retailers. I think it’s also worth noting that the Chancellor announced an additional £1 billion of funding for local government, so the mayor has no grounds for complaint as far as any shortfall in business rates tax receipts is concerned.”
Editor’s note: Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced many other items in his speech, covering everything from stamp duty for first time buyers to a 50p ‘commemorative’ Brexit coin. However, as the future of our high street is a hot topic at the moment we have chosen to focus on these elements for this story alone, and will seek to cover further points in future articles. In the meantime, the budget in full can be read at via the Government’s document portal.