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Rate relief too little, too late, say West Oxfordshire traders
AT FIRST sight, things are coming up roses for Rosa Ashby.
The Witney florist is among the owners of shops, cafes and pubs across Oxfordshire who will receive up to £1,000 off their business rates for the next two years.
The saving applies to retail premises with a rateable value of £50,000 or less and is part of a national rate relief scheme which was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in last year’s autumn statement.
West Oxfordshire District Council and its counterparts in the rest of the county have already voted to implement it and are writing to eligible retail businesses inviting them to apply.
But Mrs Ashby, who pays more than £6,000-a-year in business rates for her Rosa’s Flowers shop, in Wesley Walk, says the Government needs to do more to help independent retailers.
She said: “I’m glad that we’re getting something but it’s too little, too late. Small businesses like us suffer the most.
“It’s not exactly buoyant on the high street at the moment, so business rates are a big whack coming out from your takings every single month.”
Mrs Ashby, who runs the shop with her husband Jim, said they met Witney MP and Prime Minister David Cameron last year to protest at what they regard as unreasonably high business rates, rent and VAT.
Sharon Buck has run Chomsky’s cafe, which is opposite Mrs Ashby’s shop, for the past four years and pays £900-a-year in business rates.
She said: “At the moment, business is just so bad that we need all the help we can get. I don’t think the Government is doing enough for us.”
Ian Hawkins, of the Burford House Hotel, pays just under £15,000-a-year in business rates on the High Street premises.
It has eight guest rooms and the restaurant can seat 20 people.
He said: “Here in Burford, the recession has taken a while to hit, but we have seen footfall during the past year really take a tumble.
“Burford is generally considered affluent but a lot of the residents are pensioners, so their savings aren’t going as far. As a result, they’re cutting back on eating out from perhaps twice a month, to just once a month.
He added: “Unlike domestic rates, business rates do not cover things such as waste collection, so we have to pay for that on top.
“Any reduction in rates will help, but the Government has to take a hard look at what’s happening on the high street. The big chains seem to get things done for them which small, independent traders, like us, don’t.”
A more upbeat view came from Marion Crocker, who owns two fashion boutiques in Witney and Henley under the Estilo name.
She pays £600-a-month for the shop in Witney’s High Street and £1,100-a-month in Henley and employs eight part-time staff.
She added: “From my point of view, this business rate relief is very welcome. The rates for both shops are ludicrous.
“I have to find £1,700 every month for business rates and another £3,900 for rent for both shops before I even open the doors.
“So to know I’m going to get something back in the form of a rates reduction will make a difference.”
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