Marks & Spencer boss demands business rates cut

Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe has echoed the demands of his retail colleague Lord Simon Wolfson, the Next chief executive, in calling for business rate cuts to save the High Street and jobs.

Rowe said the “seismic upheaval” caused by the pandemic will lead to lost retail jobs and shop closures generally unless the government “fundamentally reviews” the business rates regime.

Ahead of the March Budget, Rowe called for chancellor Rishi Sunak to increase corporation tax to help finance a cut in business rates. The government has previously ruled out basic rises in corporation tax, against demands for rises among the opposition.

As well as being forced to close and/or going out of business, High Street retailers have seen even more sales moving to online rivals during lockdown.

His views are part of a coordinated strategy by the UK's retail leaders to make sure the government takes account of the dangers to retail as furlough schemes, tax breaks and rescue lending become less prevalent.

The call for business rate changes has already been made by the likes of Lord Wolfson and the British Retail Consortium.

The retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are currently benefiting from a business rates holiday for the current financial year, but this will end on 31 March. Retailers want it extended.

The Treasury had previously delayed a review report into business rates until this autumn, to allow more time for the UK and its shops to come out of lockdown, but some findings are expected to be released next month.

Rowe said: “The ever-increasing burden of rates has become an unbearable yoke around the neck of thousands of shopkeepers.

“Our sector faces the fight of its life and the government needs to act on its forthcoming review on rates.”

Rowe said the “fairest” way to tax was based on profit (many retailers - including M&S - are struggling to make them).

He said a “minimal” increase in corporation tax on profits would fund a reduction for business rates across the retail sector.

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