Retail trade union Usdaw has expressed “major concerns” over reports that the government is considering increasing business rates for premises with a rateable value over £51,000.
The news comes as reports suggest Rishi Sunak is considering increasing business rates in an effort to boost the UK economy.
Instead, Usdaw is calling for a “fundamental review” of business rates as part of a wider recovery plan to be developed with trade unions and retail employers.
Usdaw said this should include an immediate and comprehensive review of rental values and lease arrangements.
It argued that in the short-term measures are needed to prevent commercial landlords taking legal action for rental defaults during the lockdown period. In the medium term, it called for a “rebalancing of the relationship” between landlords and tenants.
In addition, the trade union is calling on a reform of UK tax law to ensure that companies pay “their fair share of tax” through tackling tax avoidance, funding for local authorities and investment in skills for retail workers, including through union learning and high-quality apprenticeships.
It is also calling for a new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said the trade organisation is “staggered “by reports that the government may look at increasing business rates for higher value properties, calling it a “huge step backwards.”
He said: “The retail sector already contributes £7bn of rates annually, a quarter of the entire UK business rates bill. Increasing business rates would drive more retailers out of our town centres and put even more jobs at risk.
“We have welcomed the government’s business rates holiday for retail and hospitality businesses, but we believe that the outdated system needs a fundamental review. The shift towards online retail has accelerated during lockdown.”
He added: “If the government wants our high streets to survive and thrive, it should be working to level the playing field between online and bricks and mortar retail, so the idea of increasing this already disproportionate cost for retailers seems absurd.
“Retail workers have made an enormous contribution during the current crisis and their job security depends on targeted intervention by the government to support the recovery of this vital industry, which employs nearly three million people.”