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Comment: Give councils more power to support indie retailers

The British Retail Consortium’s warning that inaction on business rates reform could see as many as 80,000 shops shut by 2017 was scaremongering worthy of the Daily Mail. But putting aside the numbers, the warning was a much-needed shot across the bow.

Reading between the lines the BRC is already rather concerned the ongoing review of business rates in England will fall far short of its “radical” claims.  

The deadline for submissions to the review consultation was last Friday (June 12) and it remains to be seen how much the government takes on board. One thing I hope is that ministers give serious consideration to the role of local councils in the business rates system.

I agree with the view expressed by a consortium of organisation including London Councils and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce – the current system leaves local authorities unable to respond to the needs of local areas. Councils should have responsibility for the setting of rates and relief schemes so they can tailor support to local circumstances.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve split my time between London and Edinburgh visiting a number of independent retailers. One thing that struck me was how valuable a healthy relationship with the local council can be for small businesses.

Many spoke of fashion shows that would not have been possible without council backing. The Dulwich Trader in south London revealed the Love West Dulwich Fair held in May to promote local businesses was made possible thanks in no small part to the £7,000 provided by Southwark council.

Adele Crombie, owner of women’s denim indie ALC on Thistle Street in Edinburgh, has signed up to This is Edinburgh, a campaign run jointly by Essential Edinburgh, Marketing Edinburgh and Edinburgh council. The campaign now retweets some of ALC’s events and promotions, helping Crombie to reach a much wider audience.

From retweets to rates, councils can do so much to support indies. The government must use the review to help and encourage local authorities to prioritise business growth.

@KirstyMcGregor

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