The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has come under renewed fire for its stance on business rates after inflation figures published this week set the potential increase next spring at 3.2%.
The increase – which the BRC estimates is equal to an extra £242m in rates throughout the sector, and could lead to the loss of nearly 20,000 jobs – is based on Retail Price Index (RPI) figures for September published by the Office for National Statistics this week.
The trade body has reiterated its view that the business rates system is no longer fit for purpose. However, its continued stance of calling for a 2% cap rather than a freeze or wider reform has been attacked by some in the industry.
High street campaigner Bill Grimsey told Drapers the BRC’s proposed cap was “jaw-droppingly out of touch”.
“I cannot believe at a time when everyone is saying that business rates are too high it is campaigning for more increases,” he said. “If it talks to small businesses on the high street it will know this is a recipe for disaster. I think its views are out of touch with those of its members.”
Business risk analyst Nick Hood agreed. “It represents a sector that employs one in nine people in the UK workforce, but all it is doing is rolling over and having its tummy tickled by the Tories,” he said.
“The BRC is the focal point for the retail sector and if it had been robust it would at least have got some discussion going in government.”
British Independent Retailers’ Association (Bira) deputy chief executive Michael Weedon acknowledged all trade bodies should have done more to tackle the problem, noting that RPI is no longer an officially recognised statistic.
“We all should have done more,” he said. “Now it’s just an arbitrary figure doing arbitrary damage.”
However, the BRC said it was sticking to its guns, saying it was vital it built an empirical case before tackling the issue of reform with the Government once again.
BRC director of business and regulation Tom Ironside said: “We don’t underestimate the impact another increase will have on the sector, but where we feel we should be strategically focused is on reform.
“I would wholly push back on the argument that we threw the towel in too early.”