Independent retailers are in uproar over business rates that are too high for the services they are getting, with one in nine citing specific areas they object to paying for.

That's the verdict of The Grocer's latest exclusive reader survey. Although retailers believe they are not getting value for money, most want the government to continue to set local business rates, rather than see this power reverting to county councils.

“We should stick with the government so the council doesn't get their sticky fingers on it,” says one.

“It is fairer for all shop owners if business rates are set centrally, as I think most councils are greedy,” says another.

One shop owner feels that business rates are often used as a political tool by local authorities, so they were best handled by the government.
Some others feel business rates should be a local issue as councillors are closer to any given area. “If it's up to the council then at least you can look them in the eye when you are complaining about it,” says one shop owner.

These findings come as retailers' leaders urge Gordon Brown to resist calls to return to local authorities the power to set business rates ('Local business rate proposal opposed', The Grocer, 14 October, p13).

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) fears moving to a localised system of business taxation could cause rates to escalate if councils increased them to boost income. This view is plainly stated in its submission to the Treasury ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pre-Budget statement, scheduled for early December.

“Because only people can vote, not businesses, stores are seen as a soft target and are seen as a cash cow by local authorities,” says BRC head of property and planning Paul Browne. “Back in 1979 and the 1980s, when rates were set locally rather than nationally, there was great disparity across the country.”

Even at current levels, many store owners are still unsatisfied with the services they receive. “Apart from sweeping up outside my shop from time to time, I don't see what I'm paying for,” says one retailer quizzed by The Grocer.

“We did not get a reduction in business rates when water rates started to be billed separately,” says one retailer. The services offered to independent retailers by the police also angered many. “The police do nothing when I contact them,” says one retailer, while another complains that it had “taken the police hours” to get to her shop when it was broken into.

Although one in six retailers questioned say their businesses would survive further rates increases, even they point out that this would “take some doing.” More than 40% feel that their business would possibly or definitely go under. “Everything is going up at the moment, so we don't want any more,” says one concerned retailer.

The questions we asked:

1) Can you afford current business rates?
Yes - 60%
No - 40%

2) Is the cost of services you get too high?
Yes - 100%
No - 0%

3) Do you object to paying for some areas?
Yes - 90%
No - 10%

4) Should local councils set business rates?
Yes - 32%
No - 66%