Help Welsh businesses weather the storm

Diolch, Presiding Officer. Today we are calling on the Welsh Government to provide more information regarding the £10 million additional funding for business rate relief announced before Christmas. The Valuation Office Agency’s business rate revaluation will result, as we know, in businesses in some parts of Wales facing huge hikes in their rates. Let’s be clear about what that means in practice. It means, at best, businesses having less money to invest in their premises, in their staff, and, ultimately, in their future. At worst, it means businesses having to shut up shop and call it a day. Rural businesses in particular are facing hardship in light of the Valuation Office Agency’s revaluations, with some experiencing a percentage rise in triple digits, and others stating that they will have to close because of the rate rises.

 

The Welsh Retail Consortium has said that, following on from the revaluation in April 2017, current predictions are showing that the projected rate poundage for Wales could jump by a staggering 10 per cent, making Wales the highest taxed and least attractive place to do business in the UK, based on our rates system—not my words, not Welsh Conservative words; the words of the Welsh Retail Consortium.

 

Now, as the Cabinet Secretary will know, I’ve been particularly concerned about all this from the outset because of the impact it particularly has in my constituency, where nearly 65 per cent of businesses will be affected by the revaluation. The Monnow Bridge Fish Bar in Monmouth will be hit by a 200 per cent plus rise, taking it from £9,800 to over £20,000. The Oasis hair salon in Monmouth will see its business rates almost doubled, from £4,250 to £7,110.

 

In the 2016 budget, the UK Government set out a number of key policy changes in order to assist SMEs, including raising the small business rate relief threshold from £6,000. Welsh Conservatives believe that the same should happen here. Now, in July 2016, the Scottish Government requested submissions to the Barclay review into business rates. The Cabinet Secretary here has announced a review of business rates in 2018, and we warmly welcome this review; we believe it’s necessary. However, you can’t blame businesses for questioning whether this is too little, too late, for those SMEs that are facing substantial rises.

 

Now, turning to the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement of a £10 million transitional relief scheme for small businesses affected by the revaluation, we know this will be available from 1 April, and, according to the Cabinet Secretary, will be in addition to the so-called existing £100 million tax cut for small businesses in Wales. We welcome this transitional relief scheme, but is it sufficient to cover the high rates some businesses will now face beyond 2017? The Welsh Government must now look at raising the rates relief bands and splitting the multiplier, as has happened across the border in England. In the meantime, we do at least have this commitment from the Welsh Government for extra funding—and we do welcome that—for businesses in high streets across Wales, and I know that some of the detail that the Cabinet Secretary has already announced does indicate that it will specifically apply to businesses in our ailing high streets, and, as I say, we welcome that.

 

Cabinet Secretary, businesses now need clarity as to when and how this money will be allocated and how businesses will be applying for it and able to apply for it. We’re already in January, this has now gone on for weeks, months, and the clock is ticking. I ask this Chamber to support this motion, and let’s all get on with the job of helping Welsh businesses weather this storm and move on to brighter days ahead.