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Saturday January 12, 2019: Reforming the Rates

A good many years ago, those who owned their homes paid what were known as Rates; a contribution to their city or town’s running costs. Street lights, keeping the roads in good order, local parks, libraries and so on. All the services provided by local authorities in fact. The problem was that only homeowners paid them. People who rented their homes did not, even though they use the same services. Clearly this was a little unfair so the government of the day reformed rates and their first idea was known as the Poll Tax. Like almost all government initiatives, although the idea was sound enough, in practice it was unworkable and penalised people financially and unfairly. The Poll tax led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister such was the level of protestation from ordinary people and it was the last time almost everybody, from all walks of life, took to the streets in mass (and peaceful) demonstrations up and down the UK. The present incarnation – Council Tax – also has its flaws but it is still better than the rates in that everybody has to pay it.

Business rates however, are in desperate need of change. The High Street and all those shops and stores we used to take for granted, is in serious danger of extinction and the calls for reforming business rates grow louder by the day. Those calls tend to lean heavily towards making retailers like Amazon pay more tax. Why?

Amazon (and others like them) pay what the law requires them to pay. Criticising them seems rather pointless therefore when they are doing just what they are supposed to do and the reason they are so successful is because they have responded to what their customers want. So must town and city centre retailers.

That response however, does not mean increased taxes – it means decreasing the punitive rates imposed not just on businesses that do their business in town but also the cash cow of town centre car parking. It means making the town centre more accessible than it has become and it means people who go into town centre stores should be able to find the things they want and at prices they can afford. It means that when people go into a shop or store, they should be helped by well paid, well-trained, knowledgeable staff who appreciate that customers pay their wages.

And it means customers treating staff with respect and politeness.

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