In the blizzard of spending splurges promised by the two candidates to be our next Prime Minister has been some announcements that could be very significant for High Street retailers. Boris Johnson, the clear favourite, has announced that he wants to introduce 100% business rate relief on free-to-use ATMs to keep as many as possible open in town and city centres to ensure shoppers can withdraw money. He has declared that he wants to curb the closure of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that has followed the surge in contactless payments.
While this may appeal to shire Tories of a certain vintage the trouble is the Boris approach is as feasible as owning a unicorn. In a contactless world, less and less people are drawing out cash when you can tap a card or your phone. The subsidies he is proposing would not allow for the cash machine to be free as it still needs to be maintained, filled, connected and bank charges apply which make the model loss making for any operator especially if it is used infrequently. More poppycock from the master of poppycock.
Johnson also talks about wanting ‘a range of bureaucratic and legal barriers to business to be swept away’ to allow high-street shops to flourish. This includes an ‘overhaul of town and country planning laws that mean converting one form of premises ie. a shop, cafe, pub or hot-food takeaway, to another can be a lengthy process’.
One option being considered by Johnson’s team is introducing a new “A” class business category covering shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes. The measure would allow existing shops to easily offer additional services.
He also called for the immediate unlocking of a £675m government fund earmarked for sprucing up high streets around Britain. If he becomes prime minister, he plans to announce this summer the towns that have been successful in bidding for shares of the cash.
Although on paper the overhaul of planning laws looks attractive, the problem is planning laws relating to change of use are not in his power to change, neither will £675m go far and how does he propose to choose which towns are more worthy of the fund? As ever with Johnson’s announcements rhetoric trumps reality.
Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt has pledged to exempt hundreds of thousands of small businesses from business rates if he becomes Prime Minister. Hunt intends to scrap taxes for nine out of 10 high street shops in a bid to save the high street. The claim is the move will save newly exempted businesses up to £6,500 each and will scrap taxes on 24,500 businesses based in Birmingham (5,000), Manchester (8,000), Leeds (6,000), Newcastle (2,000) and Bristol (3,500).
Hunt said that his government would reform the current Retail Discount rate, so that businesses which qualified for the discount would see their entire business rate bill cancelled. At present, those with a ratable value below £51,000 are eligible for their bill to be cut by one third.
Additionally, one of Hunt’s best trailed policy announcements has been a promise to cut corporation tax from 19% to as low as 12.5%, a policy which has been costed at £13bn a year. His generous spending pledges have seen him receive some flak from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
Hunt the self-proclaimed entrepreneur is certainly more progressive in his thinking and his ideas may just work to support independent traders on the high street who are being strangled by inflated taxes. The corporation rate cut will pay for itself making Britain an attractive base and undoubtedly bring more corporates to base themselves in the UK and with a No Deal Brexit in site, more initiatives like this is what the UK needs to survive.
The trouble is according to all the polling, Hunt has little chance of getting in. Just like the rest of us, it seems High Street retailers had better batten down the hatches as Tory Party members take the ultimate gamble in installing Johnson in to Number 10.
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