HUNDREDS of small businesses in West Oxfordshire have saved more than £1m combined since April 1 thanks to rates relief discounts.

All 353 eligible firms in the district have been automatically granted the new Retail Rate Discount, which cuts retailers’ rates by a third if they have a rateable value of £51,000 or less.

The programme, announced in the government’s Autumn Statement last year, came into effect last month and will remain in force for two years.

Several independent traders in Witney have spoken out against rising rates in recent years, including John Saunders, who co-owns Witney Sewing and Knitting Centre on the High Street.

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The company is one of those receiving the discount, but Mr Saunders fears it may not be enough for some struggling firms.

He said: "It might be too little, too late for a lot of people. I don't blame those who have packed up and left one iota.

"I'm 70 years old, still paying thousands every month towards the shop and I've got to the stage where I wonder whether I need this at this time of life.


"It's been our livelihood for us and many others for several years, but shopping has been killed for a lot of reasons, not just rates."

Mr Saunders, whose son Oli runs Witney Lighting, added: "All we've heard over the last 12 months is death on the high street."

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Last April, Mr Saunders revealed he was paying £10,440 a year in business rates, but this will fall significantly thanks to the new discount.

Between them, the 353 businesses have saved £1,013,338.28 - about £2,870 each on average.


Traders who feel they do not qualify are being asked to 'opt-out', while firms that feel they are eligible but have not yet been granted the discount can still apply.

Toby Morris, the district council’s cabinet member for resources, works with several small businesses in West Oxfordshire in his day job as a chartered management accountant.

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He said: "It's fantastic news that the eligible businesses have taken advantage of the discount, which is designed to help them out.

"There's a lot of pressure on small businesses all the time. It just takes a couple of weeks of quiet trading and you could be struggling.

"This should definitely help if business rates are proving an issue."

Last month, Rosa Flowers closed its doors after several years in the town, while Keates of Witney was forced to shut its menswear section in March.

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Meanwhile, Liz Hogarty, the owner of closed Chipping Norton cafe, Delicacy Deli, said just last week how independent traders must 'evolve' to survive on the high street.

Eleanor Martin, chairman of Witney Chamber of Commerce, said: "Many small businesses are under pressure, particularly in the high street in small towns like Witney, so any help that they can receive is a good thing.


Rosa and Jim Ashby of Rosa Flowers closing the doors one last time.

"We would like to think that the district council understands the problems these businesses face and any relief that they, along with the government can give is very welcome.

"We want the small businesses to thrive and continue to serve visitors to Witney for years to come."