Tag Archives: Small Business Rates Relief

Hope you had a good Christmas. Try not to think about the kipper season.

Preliminary sales results from the big boys have been poor at best. The ‘Big Four’ supermarkets have been fighting off the Germans – Aldi and Lidl – so margins remained wafer-thin. The high street fashion retailers were hammered by unseasonably warm weather and Black Friday never really took off. Biggies like H&M and Next started their sales early (which is a bit worrying given the low rate of inflation and rising disposable incomes). Drastic discounting did not draw in the crowds as expected so when the full Christmas sales results are announced it will be interesting to see the proportion which transferred to online or simply disappeared to online competition. Amazon and Google announced amazing turnover figures for Black Friday with durables, white goods and presents only a click away. Shoppers were still seen browsing High Street shops up to Christmas Eve but more for price-comparison with online and/or to sniff out last-minute bargains. Conversion to sales seems to have been poor with many shoppers preferring to sit in front of their PC with a pile of mince pies.

Lower High Street footfall means lower Market turnover

You might have hoped this would not affect your market but I’m sorry to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Stallholders do not have the sky-high rents and rates of a ‘bricks ‘n mortar’ high street retailer so are still able to offer real bargains BUT they remain overwhelmingly reliant on footfall. Lower high street footfall means lower market turnover which seems to have affected seasonal Christmas markets as much as weekday general markets. Meat, poultry and fruit & veg. seems to have stood up reasonably well but European traders who came to the UK in search of a strong currency and better sales turnover went home disappointed. Sales turnover on Christmas markets seems to have fallen by at least a quarter.

Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground

So who were the real winners? Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground. Those selling craft and luxury goods only have done well. My friend trained as saddlemaker in Walsall but threw in that towel to make wallets, belts, dog collars and handbags and only sells online. His sales through Etsy, Ebay, Facebook and website are better then ever. He’s not cheap but works on the theory that no girl can ever be too thin or own too many handbags or pairs of shoes. He took a big gamble and doubled his stock from July but had a cracking good Christmas since. His secrets are low overheads, adding value by product skills and selling online 24/7.

Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient

So where does this leave the markets industry? The impact of online retailing and home delivery by DHL is as profound as the introduction of self-service supermarkets was to the corner shop. Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient. Sadly, the Chancelllor’s Autumn statement didn’t contain any real goodies for small businesses to reinvest in and develop themselves. But it did confirm your market authority’s worst fears – a further 29% in spending cuts over the next 5 years. The easy cuts have been made already so you can anticipate services like care for the elderly taking priority. Loss-making ‘discretionary’ services like markets are in line for disposal in line with the ‘Big Society’ agenda promoted by David Cameron.

It would be interesting to know how many stallholders have half-embraced online retailing

It would be interesting to know how many Stallholders have HALF-embraced online retailing, but not the right half. Be honest with yourself and admit whether you’ve gone online because you’re too busy selling and don’t have time to sit in the carpark queue at Bluewater (6 hours) or Silverburn (3 hours). Maybe next year you should plan ahead and go online then treat yourself with a post-Christmas weekend holiday in Eastern Europe. Many of their Christmas markets stay open until the Orthodox Christmas on 6th January.

A Christmas when you don’t have to work – whoopee!


Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury has announced a review of the business rates system and inviting contributions from all parties. Quarterbridge has made representations on behalf of market traders, stallholders and owners. We’ve highlighted inconsistencies in application and how recent changes have created an unnecessary administrative burden on councils.

When the rateable value is calculated it should, theoretically reflect periodic occupation and varying trader attendance from week to week.

The existing system of business rates is based on the estimated rental value of comparable premises which are occupied with exclusive possession by a tenant for 365 days per year. This rarely applies to markets – particularly open markets which don’t occupy a building and for which comparable evidence of rental value can rarely be found. When the rateable value is calculated it should, theoretically reflect periodic occupation and varying trader attendance from week to week. But in reality this does not happen and the market owner is left with a charge to recover through the rents he charges but which has very little relation to the true value of the space.

The administration is unnecessarily complex and in any event often worthless at collecting tax

The system is particularly inappropriate for market halls containing fixed stalls. Stallholders do enjoy ‘exclusive possession’ of their stalls 365 days per year but in recent years the Valuation Office has moved away from a ‘single assessment’ of a whole market hall to individual assessments of stalls within it. This is a retrograde step. Previously it was easy for management to query the assessment and apportion it back to stallholders pro rata to the space they occupy within the building. Nowadays the system requires the individual measurement of each stall and the creation of dozens of new rating accounts for a council to administer. There are also inconsistencies in application between regional valuation offices – sometimes the management facilities are charged in addition and sometimes they are apportioned into the stall assessments. The administration is unnecessarily complex and in any event often worthless at collecting tax because individual assessments fall into the band qualifying for small business rates relief.

Under the individual assessment scheme stallholders have to submit individual applications for small business rates relief

Under the individual assessment scheme stallholders have to submit individual applications for small business rates relief which creates yet another burden of administration for their local council. In practice many managers make the applications for relief on behalf of their stallholders to keep total occupational costs down and often end up supplying the VO with floor areas for the calculations. Turkeys don’t like voting for Christmas or doing someone else’s job.

Markets halls and open markets should be assessed on a ‘profits-generated’ basis

The Quarterbridge view is that simple-to-administer single assessments for market Halls should be used and both markets halls and open markets should be assessed on a ‘profits-generated’ basis at the financial year end, using trading accounts and online self-assessment. This will remove a whole raft of administrative costs and make the system fairer all round.

If you’d like to make your views known to HMG and see the terms of reference for the review, then go to http://www.ow.ly/LwMDy

Act now and have your say

Responses have to be received by 12th June which ain’t far away so get weaving.


The bookmakers odds for the May 7th general election are all over the place. The outcome looks the least predictable for decades now that coalition government and fixed-term parliaments have become the norm.

Turnout should be good though as more people tend to vote in a general election if the result is uncertain.

Depending on where you live you could have the choice of up to 12 mainstream parties to choose from: Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem, SNP etc., plus up to 21 fringe parties such as the Yorkshire Devolution Party and CISTA – which sounds like an unpleasant personal infection. But if you live in the constituency of the Speaker of the House of Commons like wot I do then it’s much more boring. The mainstream guys have a gentlemans agreement not to field a competing candidate so we’ve only got the Greens and UKIP. And Nigel Farage isn’t the candidate here again as last time he had a nasty accident in an aeroplane.  Turnout should be good though as more people tend to vote in a general election if the result is uncertain. In 2001 a mere 59% of registered electors bothered to vote after Labour’s previous 1997 landslide win. In 2010 after the financial crisis the figure rose to 65% but not in central Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham where more than half still couldn’t be arsed to vote. Mind you that’s better than in Lithuania where only 37% turned-out for their last general election and a lot worse than in Australia where 94% did so. But in Oz it’s a legal obligation to do your civic duty and vote or you get fined £12 and thrown to the crocodiles.


If you’re feeling as interested as a Lithuanian but want to understand everyone’s policies and impress your mates down at the pub then go to the BBC’s excellent ‘policies at a glance’ website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/manifesto-guide

‘Which county has created more jobs than the whole of France?..’

MP’s were waiting eagerly in March for the Chancellors pre-election budget. They expected a last-minute knock-down ‘Chancellors special’ but in the event came away disappointed. George Osborne sat back and rested on the Government laurels of the fastest growing post-recession economy in Europe. The Yorkshire Devolution Party (No MP’s, yet) was ecstatic when he announced ‘Which county has created more jobs than the whole of France? The great county of Yorkshire!’. George glossed-over the need to pay-down the governments £1.4 trillion of debt after the deficit has been sorted but did throw in a few morsels such as tax breaks for North Sea oil companies and reduced duty on beer and wine. The only real cheers were for fuel duty (no increase) and abolition of annual tax returns and national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Sadly, George didn’t lift the threshold for Vat registration and boost the ‘engine room of the economy’ as he calls small businesses.

The PM has announced plans for a ‘Northern powerhouse’

The government is definitely twitchy about accusations that a ‘Metropolitan elite’ is running the country and doing ‘nowt for the north’. To do something for marginal northern constituencies the PM has announced plans for a ‘Northern powerhouse’ fuelled by allowing Greater Manchester to keep 100% of the growth in local business rates and benefit from another high speed rail link – HS3. This would extend HS2 from Manchester and Leeds up to Newcastle, but quite how it can be financially-justified is another matter.

‘little more than a costly vanity project’ 

That has already been pointed out by the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the free-market think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. It’s spokesperson described it as ‘little more than a costly vanity project’ which is how Lord Mandelson has described it’s conception in the dying days of the last Labour administration.

The Small Business Rates Relief scheme is extended until 31st March 2016

Anyway, putting aside HS2’s unwelcome lack of a business case the government has moved to safer ground by confirming the Small Business Rates Relief scheme is extended until 31st March 2016. Most market businesses qualify for this waiver on rates payable so if you’re not already receiving it I strongly recommend you check with the rating office at your local council. If the rateable value of your premises is below £6,000 you’ll pay nothing at all and to encourage you to grow into bigger premises you’ll now receive the relief for 12 months after you occupy an additional property. This news was delivered at the same time as Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced a ‘radical review’ of the business rates system with its outcome to be announced in 2016. ‘The time has come for a radical review of this important tax. We want to ensure the system is fair, efficient and effective’ he said, which was nice to hear. But those of us with long memories will remember previous government attempts to reform the rating system have been torpedoed by the civil servants of the Valuation Office which employs lots of keen young surveyors to administer the system.

Just as exciting and unpredictable as the result of the general election was the result of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Just as exciting and unpredictable as the result of the general election was the result of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Unfortunately my foolproof system to ‘Back the jockey – not the horse’ came unzipped, yet again. Tony McCoy and Carlingford Lough trundled in at ninth place whilst Nico de Boinville on Coneygree romped home to a well-deserved length and a half victory.

McCoy has announced he won’t be riding at Cheltenham again.  I can see a pattern emerging here.




Some years ago a mate of mine was Sales director of an Engineering Company in the Midlands. The Company had grown off the back of supplying ‘gondola’ display racking to supermarkets. A big roll of galvanised steel went into one end of their factory and lots of uprights and shelves came out the other. Supermarkets were expanding like crazy and he’d shaved the margins when bidding for a mega-deal for 10 miles of racking for 40 new stores. He was understandably delighted to be invited to a contract-signing at a certain Supermarket’s head office but when shown into the boardroom found several competitors sitting at the table, all looking very hacked-off. Then in walked the Supermarket Head of Procurement who announced they would each be given an office, a telephone and one hour to reconsider their price. This was not a nice way to be treated. He lost the contract and his Company had too many eggs in one basket so went belly-up a couple of years later. Lesson learnt – the hard way.

Half-year profit forecasts to investors were being overstated by some £250m.

Quite a lot of hard-done-by suppliers may be taking quiet pleasure from Tesco’s problems at the moment – well the ones who can find another customer anyway. Back in September a whistleblower in Tesco’s finance department thought the new Chief Executive, Dave Lewis should be told that half-year profit forecasts to investors were being overstated by some £250m. When this profit warning was announced the institutional shareholders reacted in horror and the share price plunged. If you can’t trust the published accounts of a FTSE 100 Company then who can you trust? An internal enquiry was launched, payments withheld to former executives and others politely asked to step aside. Tesco has now handed the results to the Financial Conduct Authority amidst allegations that a small group of people in Britain’s biggest retailer deliberately misled its auditors to boost the trading accounts.

Tesco also confirmed withholding pay-outs worth millions of pounds to former Chief Executive Philip Clarke and former chief financial officer Laurie Mcilwee. The Serious Fraud Office is taking a keen interest and Tesco could face ‘significant fines’ and claims from investors says Mr Lewis. He is also wondering why he answered that job advertisement.

Screwing your suppliers is standard practice for any supermarket but Tesco seems to have refined the art. The allegation is they credited ‘product supplier discounts’ to an earlier accounting period than when actually received. This is naughty and contrary to the Groceries Supply Code of Practice as well as proper accounting standards. You can get away with it if sales turnover is rising and increased revenue in the next period cloaks it – but not if sales turnover is falling which is what’s happening at Tesco. These ‘discounts’ are demanded by Supermarkets in return for the retailer placing the suppliers product on the best shelf. ‘Eye line is buy line’ and all that – a bit like paying key money to get the best pitch next to your Market entrance.

Tesco’s share of the UK groceries and household goods market share has fallen from over 30% to 28%.

This little accounting irregularity is the icing on the cake for Tesco. Sales have been falling for several quarters largely due to German discounters Aldi and Lidl. Tesco’s share of the UK groceries and household goods market share has fallen from over 30% to 28% and the share price was already on the slide before this announcement. Chiselling £250 million or so out of your suppliers every 3 months is no mean feat but it seems likely someone told the auditors the discounts were already in the bank, not an anticipated receipt. Tesco shares which were nudging £5 a couple of years ago now stand at under £2.

So it looks like our Dave may need to raise cash to pay a hefty fine and reimburse shareholders who bought-in on fraudulent figures. Someone may even do porridge. Dave has now penned a long apology to Tesco Suppliers which looked good in the press and stopped them looking round for other retail outlets. It also softened them up for the next round of supply negotiations which are bound to follow. He might have to sell-off of an asset or two such as Tesco Banking or a juicy overseas operation. Cost-cutting in the UK such as a halt on new store openings had already been implemented by his predecessor Philip Clarke who switched to store refitting with posh coffee shops, restaurants and digital businesses. And falling sales.

Dave Lewis says he is a fan of ‘brand archaeology’ i.e. returning Tesco to its original roots. That sounds like he’ll focus on becoming Britain’s cheapest retailer once more and taking-on Aldi and Lidl. It’s the suppliers I feel sorry for.

Meanwhile the 5-yearly commercial property revaluation used to calculate business rates has been postponed yet again.

The last revaluation was due in 2013 but HM Government postponed it until 2015 claiming it would cause ‘uncertainty for businesses’. It’s now been postponed yet again until 2017 i.e. after the next election and assessments continue to apply based on pre-2010 rental values. The total revenue ‘take’ collected by the Treasury is supposed to remain the same but because many High Street businesses have collapsed thanks to online shopping etc the burden is going to fall on those that remain. The British Retail Consortium has kicked-off big time about the effect on their Supermarket members and the PM has promised a long-overdue review of this archaic system. To do so he’ll have to fight his way past all the HMRC District Valuers. Good luck.

In the meantime as a ‘Small Business’ which occupies only one premises you’ll hopefully remain clear of liability thanks to the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme. But this is due to expire in March 2015. It will be interesting to see if Chancellor George Osborne extends that to 2017. He’s bound to – isn’t he?

Happy Christmas!

Starbucks sign

Keep looking on the bright side of life…

The Chancellor’s Autumn statement was small-business friendly in a modest sort of way. There’s no need to dwell on the revised forecasts for UK economic growth or government spending cuts – we all knew they were coming – but the good news is the extension of the Small Business Rates Relief scheme. Extending this for another 12 months until April 2014 is doubly-welcome at a time when HM Treasury and the District Valuer insist on individual business rates assessments for Market hall stalls, despite it being of dubious legality.

Business premises with a rateable value (RV) of £6,000 or less (i.e. most stalls in a Market hall) will now continue to enjoy complete exemption from business rates, i.e. 100% relief. Those with RV’s between £6,000 and £12,000 will continue to enjoy between 50% and no relief according to where they sit on a sliding scale. If you haven’t done so already then now is the time to contact your Council rating department to find out what your RV is and if you can apply for small business rates relief. The RV records and an application form can usually be found on your Council website.

But before you do so, get out your tape measure and check the floor area of your stall. This is used to calculate the RV and it’s surprisingly common for the assumed area to be anything up to 20% out. That can mean the difference between half-rates payable and none payable at all. If you find your stall is smaller than records suggest then you can appeal against the assessment. If you find it’s bigger than they think then it’s usually best to stay shtumm.

The Chancellor shelved the increase in fuel duty planned for January which is good news for your delivery costs.

Now might also be a good time to replace some capital equipment. The Chancellor increased the annual investment allowance for small businesses from £25,000 to £250,000. Talk to your accountant as this may allow you to claim tax relief on plant and machinery and be a good time to treat yourself to that replacement van, display counter or computer with all those Christmas takings. You can then set-off the capital cost off against your tax bill. And finally, the Chancellor shelved the increase in fuel duty planned for January which is good news for your delivery costs. Overall then, not a bad budget statement for small businesses – just try to avoid looking at the UK economic growth forecasts.

Starbucks paid only a paltry £8.5 million in corporation tax on £3 billion of sales over 14 years.

On an equally cheerful note the tax affairs of Starbucks, Amazon and Google continue to entertain. What with the Chancellor’s tough statements on the economy and reaction to news that Starbucks paid only a paltry £8.5 million in corporation tax on £3 billion of sales over 14 years, their MD Kris Engskov tried to avoid a PR train crash.’We’ve listened to our customers and we know we are not perfect’ he announced before closing down the Customer Comments section of their website and volunteering to make an additional payment of £10 million.

Tax experts described the offer of £10m as ‘commercially gob-smacking’

It’s just as well he did close the feedback section because at this point the wheels fell off his wagon. Tax experts described the offer of £10m as ‘commercially gob-smacking’ and politicians waded-in to protest at his treating the UK tax system as ‘a complete joke’. Several Starbucks shops were occupied by members of UK Uncut – a grassroots direct action network well-known for targeting corporate tax avoiders.

Activist Sarah Greene said: ‘It is an outrage the government continues to let multinationals dodge millions in tax while cutting vital services like refuges, creches and rape crisis centres. Women – in families, homes, communities and jobs – bear the brunt of austerity. They could easily bring in billions by clamping down on tax avoidance’. She and her sisters then demonstrated how several Starbucks shops could be converted into a childrens creche or refuge for the homeless. Mr Engskov now says he is in discussion with HM Revenue and Customs to rearrange their corporate tax position. Very sensible, Kris.

Online sales are great for sales and profits but equally good at holding you to account.

All of which goes to show how the internet works both ways. Online sales are great for sales and profits but equally good at holding you to account. Step out of line and social media such as Twitter quickly create mass movements that kick back against tax dodgers, interest rate fixers and phone hackers.

There is no suggestion that Starbucks have, technically-speaking, broken any UK tax laws but they did build their business around being a good corporate citizen – ethical purchasing from third world coffee producers etc. The Company is an easy target for protestors because of it’s High Street shops so a threatened boycott and a few occupations was a real spur to offering the Treasury a cheque.

Now that Starbucks is being fixed is the mighty Amazon next in line? One way to achieve that is to use the German tactic of occupying Luxembourg. But in the UK there are no Amazon shops on the High Street so that means no picket lines and protest occupations. Should the public resort to boycotting Amazon online sales and if they do so will they be shooting themselves in the foot? Many independent retailers have come to rely on the Amazon sales platform for a large proportion of their turnover and they still need public support. If you want to be nasty then be selectively nasty – use the ‘Seller information’ tab on the Amazon website to select an independent instead of Amazon.

And don’t forget to tell them why in the Customer feedback section. They’ve not closed that yet.