Pressure mounts on Chancellor to help High Street ahead of £728m business rate rise

Chancellor Philip Hammond is under growing pressure to use this month’s Budget to help save the High Street as stores prepare for another crippling business rates rise.

The total bill for next year’s rates will go up by £728 million at a time when shops are fighting for survival amid an online shopping boom.

The 2.4 per cent increase in the £31 billion bill was calculated after the publication yesterday of the inflation figure for September, which is used to determine April’s business rates rise in England.

Angry retailers said last night the increase would inevitably lead to more store closures and job losses. More than 50,000 retail jobs have already been lost this year.

Critics said it was deeply unfair that internet giants such as Amazon and Asos pay very little in business rates because their premises are out-of-town warehouses.

Marks and Spencer, for example, paid £184million in business rates last year compared with Amazon’s £14million for British warehouses.

The Chancellor is facing pressure to introduce a so-called ‘Amazon tax’ on the internet giants to try to level the playing field, while some have called for a freeze on business rate rises to give struggling high street stores some relief.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘The Chancellor must provide targeted support to those businesses struggling to keep their heads above water.

It’s vital that businesses are given the right support in the form of a rates freeze from April 2019, when the next inflation-linked rise is due.’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: ‘The Chancellor has got to tackle the issue of business rates, which are causing mounting anger, are a tax on business improvement, and create a disadvantage against tax-dodging tech multinationals.’

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell demanded a crackdown on tax avoidance by Amazon and other online giants.

‘The current business rates system is crippling Britain’s high streets but Philip Hammond is refusing to do anything about it,’ he said.

‘We need action so jobs and local communities don’t continue to suffer.’