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Mark Prisk MP: Lifting the rates burden for small business

Mark_prisk Mark Prisk is MP for Hertford and Stortford and a shadow minister for business and enterprise. Here he explains how making business rate relief automatic for eligible small businesses in England would help thousands of small firms.

Business rates are universally unpopular with firms. They are often the third most significant overhead, and are fixed, regardless of how well or badly a business is doing. So in a recession, business rates can help push a firm over the edge.

Small businesses feel the pinch most. And as many point out to me, they get nothing in return for their rates, not even their bins emptied.

That’s why I have been campaigning to help small business get relief from the burden of rates. Last year we dedicated a section of the party's website to helping small firms claim up to £1,100 relief.

Amazingly, half of the eligible firms weren’t claiming this relief. Why? Well most businesses I spoke to told me that they either didn’t know it existed, or had found the red tape too much.

So the online tool I put on our website enabled those businesses to quickly put in their details and then get an immediate response as to whether they are eligible and how much they might save. There is then a simple form to print, complete and send to their local council.

To date, several thousand hits on the site suggest that many firms have made good use of this tool. I also know that many Conservative councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates have used this tool to help their local businesses. Indeed when I launched the tool in Cheltenham with Mark Coote, we immediately identified half a dozen firms who would benefit.

Of course in Wales, the relief is provided automatically, as long as the business is the sole occupant. Given this, the Federation of Small Business has been lobbying to get the rules changed for firms in England.

My good friend Peter Luff MP, chairman of the BERR Select Committee, took up the cause and ably presented a Private Member's Bill to reform the law on Friday 6th March. Interestingly, the Government Minister was at best lukewarm in response. They would look at the issue. In due course. Hopefully.

Well, small business doesn’t need to wait on half promises and spin from Labour. The Conservatives are going to act.

In Government we would seek to make this relief automatic. That means scrapping the forms and bureaucracy of handling thousands of claims. It also means providing the help straight away, helping cut the fixed overheads of small businesses each and every year.

When taken alongside our plans to cut small company corporation tax rates and reduce the payroll taxes of the smallest employers, this measure is another sign that, as a party, Conservatives are on the side of enterprise.


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