Autumn Statement 2015: John Lewis and Sainsbury’s leaders meet with Treasury ministers over £8bn business rates burden

 
Kasmira Jefford
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Retail leaders met with Treasury ministers to demand urgent reforms (Source: Getty)

The leaders of two of Britain’s biggest retailers have held talks with the government to demand for urgent reforms to the burdensome business rates regime ahead of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of John Lewis Partnership, Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe, and Helen Dickinson, the director general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) met with Treasury minister David Gauke last week to discuss the government’s ongoing review of rates.

George Osborne launched the review in March and is expected to report back on the initial findings at the Autumn Statement on 25 November.

However retailers fear that there will be no substantial overhaul because of government ambitions to keep the review “fiscally neutral”, which in other words means that the amount that rates generate for Treasury coffers will stay the same.

A source close to the talks said that with the government unlikely to change its stance on fiscal neutrality, the meeting focused instead on urging for the rates burden to be shared out more fairly throughout the economy with other business.

Businesses have long called for a reform of rates, ​which they argued is outdated, limiting investment and damaging Britain’s already struggling high streets.

Speaking at the the CBI conference on Monday, Tesco boss Dave Lewis called for "urgent reform" and warned that the government’s failure to act on rates could lead to widespread job losses.

He said: “Over last five years property values have fallen, profits are down but business rates are up. Quietly but dramatically.”

The sector is the largest contributor to the levy, forking out £7.8bn last year. The BRC has warned that an increase in rates and recent policy changes including the National Living Wage rise will add an extra £14bn onto the bill over the next five years.

Dickinson, said: “The minister listened carefully to our case for business rates reform. We look forward to the chancellor’s autumn Statement and the continuation of the conversation with the government about how retail can help deliver the living wage in the context of a reformed business taxation system.”

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