Sunday, 9 December 2012

Ranting in the fresh produce journal

Any business rate increases in the current economic climate would be disastrous for greengrocers, according to several leading businesses.

Chancellor George Osborne had been widely tipped to cover business rates as part of his Autumn Statement this week, however nothing was mentioned and with rates increasing by 4.6 per cent in 2011 and 5.6 per cent this year, the British Retail Consortium has criticised the government for not clarifying if there would be any further rise.

“The Chancellor should have removed the threat of a further 2.6 per cent, £175 million rate increase next April to avoid more empty shops; this issue needs tackling urgently,” said Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC.

Three quarters of MPs currently believe trading costs should be brought under control as a way of halting high street decline, while two thirds would back a complete freeze on business rates next year, according to the BRC.

“Rates on the high street have almost doubled over the last 10 years; a further rise would be terminal for a lot of greengrocers,” said Andreas Georghiou, owner of Andreas Veg.

Georghiou owns two greengrocers based in Chelsea and Chiswick, and says that despite the Mary Portas review giving independent businesses greater publicity, the government has continued to move away in the opposite direction.

“We are essentially at the hardest part of the retail food chain as even with a 50 per cent margin you’re only making 5p an apple. There has to be a tiered level of rating on rates or greengrocers are in grave danger of disappearing.”

Christopher Bavin, owner of Walton-on-Thames based award-winning greengrocer The Naked Grocer, echoed Georghiou’s fears. “The correlation between rent and rates has now completely fallen out of kilter, and with every utility from transport and wages to waste management all going up, a business rate increase would be the kiss of death,” said Bavin.