Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has added its name to a list of more than 50 retailers calling on the government to take urgent action on business rates to help revive struggling high streets.
The company – which recently changed its name from Sports Direct and operates the sports chain, House of Fraser and Flannels among its brands – warned that the UK high street is on life support and the tike for reform “had long sicne passed”.
It added: “Transitional relief in particular is disastrous for a great many retailers.”
Transitional relief is supposed to help businesses not be overburdened with their rates bills soaring following a revaluation of the amount due.
Limits are in place to help those who are underpaying stagger the upwards transition to a higher bill, funded by overpayers slowing the speed at which their lower bill is introduced.
But retailers are angry that lower bills are not cut quicker. Frasers said: “The current system whereby downward transitions of just a few percent a year means that the correct amount is never reached, or even close to, punishes those in greatest need of relief.”
Fraser Group’s comments came as the shopworkers’ union Usdaw stepped up a campaign to halt the closure of shops, amid warnings that the retail sector is in crisis.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said 2019 was “the worst year for the retail sector since records began”.
He added: “If any other industry was facing this level of upheaval, there would quite rightly be a public outcry and government action, but that is not the case in retail.”
Lillis also blamed business rates, together with “public transport that makes it difficult for people to access their town centres, and extortionate parking charges” and called for “an industrial strategy for retail”.
Fifty-two retailers, including Asda, B&Q, Greggs and Ann Summers, among others, wrote to the Treasury this week to complain that transitional relief has forced the industry to subsidise others to the tune of £543m over the last three years.
However, the retailer’s letter was sent to Sajid Javid in his role as chancellor, which he quit on Thursday.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, which organised the letter, said: “It is essential our new chancellor makes good on the government’s pledge to reform this broken system.
“Swift action at the upcoming budget would show the chancellor was serious about levelling up all parts of the UK and supporting a retail industry towards realising a brighter future.”