SPECIAL REPORT: Business rates are ‘not sustainable’ says MP at urgent Sidmouth talks

Sir Hugo Swire MP

Sir Hugo Swire MP - Credit: Archant

“It is not sustainable to maintain these high levels of business rates in the changed economy.”

Alistair Handyside.

Alistair Handyside. - Credit: Archant

Those are the words of East Devon MP Sir Hugo Swire after warnings from local independent businesses in Sidmouth that they cannot wait much longer for action to be taken.

Hotelier Mark Seward, of Sidmouth Hotels Ltd, was one of many people to talk at the MP’s meeting about the health of the town last week.

He said the peak of hotel trading in the UK, not just in Sidmouth, but in general, was in 2007/08 - just before the recession when interest rates were relatively high.

He added that during that year he paid £65,000 a year in rates on three businesses.

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But in 2017/18 he paid £160,000 and this year he will pay £171,000 a year – which is £17,000 a month - an increase of 244 per cent in a decade.

Mr Seward said: “My turnover in 10 years has gone up 45 per cent, mainly because of keeping up with inflation. The number of people that stayed in 2007/08 was 36,183 bed nights in the two hotels – last year 31,976 – a drop of 11.5 per cent

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“There is nothing equitable about that – it is outrageous.”

Alistair Handyside, chairman of the South West Tourism Alliance, said supermarkets paid the most in rates because they made the most.

However, the percentage of their turnover or profit, compared to what they paid in rates, was considerably less, proportionately, than any of Sidmouth’s independent businesses.

He added: “I pay 10 per cent of my turnover, but if it is more than one or two per cent at one of the big supermarket stores, I would be surprised.

“This is the point I am making – it is completely inequitable and broken and you have to have a review. My personal business rates have gone from £4,000 to £16,000 to £30,000. The business is the same. The occupancy is the same. The prices are the same if you take out inflation, so how can you have a scale of charges going up like that in tax? You can’t. It is absolutely broken.

“We are all starting to pay it from this month - it will really start to hurt.”

John Wycherley, of Sidmouth Gifts, said: “This is desperate for us. If nothing is done about it in the next two or three years, there won’t be a town centre in Sidmouth.

“It is vital that we see that and the rates issue is dealt with.”

Councillor Mike Allen, responsible for business at East Devon District Council, said: “I think Sir Hugo has a responsibility to take this all back and do what he said he is going to do and lobby like heck to get the basis changed for inequitable business rates.

“However, it is also true that you as a town have a bigger attraction and better image than most seaside towns. That, therefore, needs a commercial unity, to promote that more strongly and get maybe a higher-quality audience in.”

Cllr Allen suggested using the internet to advertise the town more.

Steven Kendall-Torry, of Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, said: “I know it isn’t a simple fix and it won’t happen overnight, but if the Government wants a working, operational high street with all the employment it brings.

“Independent retailers are the biggest employers of the entire country, and when we all start to go it is a slippery slope.

“It is very hard to bring the town back to life once it has gone.”

Email sidmouth.letters@archant.co.uk and tell us what you think.

Read more about the meeting held with MP Sir Hugo Swire here:

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