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It’s time to put business rates reform on the election agenda

One of the panel at last week’s judging for the Drapers Awards 2014 summed up the current situation very well: “It’s a testament to the strength of the sector that many of the choices were so difficult.”

Such is the unforgiving standard of our annual celebration of major fashion retailers and their suppliers that we do not allow any joint winners in our 15 categories. The result, I can reveal without breaking any confidences, is that there will be more Highly Commendeds than usual at our black-tie dinner at Old Billingsgate in the City of London on Thursday, November 20.

We are expecting to see about 800 of fashion’s finest turn out to applaud our winners and finalists. It might be a bit early to class it as a Christmas party, but we like to think it kicks off the holiday season. I hope to see lots of you there.

As I have noted in this column before, our quartet of annual awards - for large retailers, independents, the footwear sector and etailing - provides welcome reminders of just how good the best practitioners are here in the UK. There are plenty of examples of their domestic success being transported overseas too in all sorts of ways. We will be hearing from some of the best of the best at the Drapers Fashion Forum in London on Thursday, November 27. I have the privilege of chairing the day’s proceedings and, if last year’s experience is anything to go by, there will be lots of opportunities for delegates to quiz our speakers as well as network like crazy with the other attendees.

It is one of the great pleasures of working for Drapers that I am part of such events that bring together the industry. We all seem to be working harder than ever and it is all too easy to get task-bound in the office, the shop or the showroom and fail to get out to mix with peers and rivals, friends and business partners.

One of the more comforting aspects of meeting and mingling with the rest of the business is to learn that you are not the only one having a tough time of it. We take no pleasure in recording this week that fashion shops and shoe shops are among the categories of independents that have suffered most closures in the first half of 2014. The extensive research from the Local Data Company and the indies’ trade body Bira makes fascinating, if somewhat gloomy, reading. Men’s fashion shops have declined by about 4.5%, with womenswear shops dropping by around 3.3%. Smaller footwear retailers took a 4.9% hit, while even bride-and-groom shops saw virtually a 5% reduction in numbers.

Filling some of these voids - and, as you would expect, reflecting current social trends - are e-cigarette sellers (up an amazing 78%), mobile phone shops (still adding more than 9%), barbers and beauty salons, especially nail bars (more than 4% in each case), bars and restaurants (more than 5% increase) and tattoo parlours (also over 5% up over the six months in review). Secondhand shops - which, presumably, is a euphemism for charity shops - saw the number of units rise by a whopping 12.39%.

Given these challenging times for fashion retailers, this week’s confirmation that the iniquitous business rates are scheduled to rise by another 2.3% next April is not good news, to put it mildly. As the general election campaign is effectively under way now, readers may find it enlightening to quiz their local candidates on their attitudes towards business rates reform. What else would you like to see on the agenda for the 2015 election? Do let us know.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I AM AMAZED AND SOMEWHAT BAFFLED BY THE LACK OF TALKS OR NEEDS BY ANY OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES OR SHOW ANY URGENCY TO REFORM BUSINESS RATES.
    THE NUMBER OF HIGH STREET RETAILERS THAT HAVE BEEN AROUND BEFORE I WAS BORN THAT HAVE NOW DISAPPEARED ALONG WITH MANY GOOD INDEPENDENTS SHOWS WHAT TOTAL DISREGARD AND LACK OF RESPECT FOR OUR INDUSTRY THEY HOLD.
    THESE PRE RECESSION RATEABLE VALUES ARE THE BIGGEST BURDEN ALONG WITH RENTS THAT HAVE CAUSE MANY RETAILERS DEMISE AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO.
    THIS NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED AND REFORMED "URGENTLY" I REPEAT "URGENTLY" AND NOT BY PUTTING THE RATES RISE ON HOLD BUT THE NEED TO HAVE A WHOLESALE CHANGE.
    OTHERWISE YOU WILL SEE MANY "MARKET" TYPE BUSINESSES AND THOSE THAT THRIVE IN THIS GLOOM OF ECONOMIC STRUGGLE ON OUR HIGH STREET IN CITIES AND TOWN CENTERS .

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  • I am pleased you have raised this issue as it is clearly one of the biggest reasons bricks & mortar businesses continue to shut down. I echo the urgency - this needs addressing now.
    It is interesting to see the continued growth of the Charity sector, with reduced rates, gifted stock and small staff overheads, it not surprising so many continue to spring up. Many people would prefer a town of original independent shops rather than yet another charity shop of hand-me-downs. I therefore suggest that in addition to the long overdue Business Rate reform a quota needs to be set for the number of Charity shops per street per town. These shops do not pay staff, therefore no money is earned to spend in the local economy. They also pay little or no VAT, again reducing the amount of money going to the exchequer and therefore adding to the burden on the trading businesses.

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