The Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland Limited

BA Welcomes HCLG Report on High Streets 2030

The Booksellers Association welcomes the report on the future of the UK’s high streets, published yesterday by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.  The BA submitted written evidence to this Select Committee Inquiry, calling especially for a level playing field to operate between online and physical retailers and the main requests put forward by the Association are supported.  The report urges the Government to raise taxes on online giants such as Amazon, and calls for lower business rates and more regeneration in town centres.

“The report sets out some perceptive questions,” says Meryl Halls, BA Managing Director, “and comes up with well-informed and thoughtful suggestions for the Government to consider, including a specific ratings methodology for the warehouses of online retailers; reinventing business rates and other business taxes for and possible green taxes on deliveries and packaging.  But the Government has to act fast, and think creatively, to secure a vibrant future for high street retail and consumers – as well as to give thought leadership for ways in which we can adapt to contemporary consumer behaviours.”

The report focuses on a number of key areas across a wide and challenging range of stakeholders: large scale structural change, central government action, local action and action by retailers and landlords, and it calls on the government to extend its thinking on taxation, citing the disparity between business rates paid by Amazon as a proportion of turnover versus that paid by bricks and mortar retailers (0.7% vs up to 6.5%). The report calls out the Government for “not … addressing the imbalance between online and high street retailers”, citing the Chancellor’s touted ‘Digital Services Tax’ in the Autumn Statement as needing ‘to go further’.
The BA welcomes the fact that the report faced the business rates situation head on. 

Meryl Halls adds: “We know how catastrophic business rates’ costs can be to small businesses – only this week a new, vibrant creative bookshop in Pinner has been hammered with huge and potentially ruinous increases in rates – this less than six months into their entrepreneurial journey to enhance the high street in Pinner. It’s heart-breaking and infuriating. And it’s not just small bookshops affected – the small business rate relief from last year will lift many small businesses out of rates, and the third discount off business rates’ bills during the next two years for those businesses that have a rateable value below £51,000 is extremely welcome.  But those just over the £51k threshold - and our bigger, chain members – are left shouldering the burden of an inappropriate tax.”

“One of the pleasing things about the report is its highlighting the difficulties retailers often have with landlords, and it calls for upward only rent reviews clauses to be outlawed and for a more collegiate approach. It’s not only in rent negotiation that it’s important – the best situations are where there is an ongoing, positive dialogue between retailer and landlord, and all too often our members are struggling with absentee landlords and uninterested ones.”

The report recommends the adoption of ‘visionary strategies’ to be adopted locally ‘with the backing of the local community, to support local trades, facilitate parking and to develop the role of place partnerships’.  Halls commented: “Booksellers are very often at the forefront of their local communities, and we are aware of many of our members who are activist in their towns and villages – Emma Corfield Walters from Book-ish in Crickhowell was on BBC Breakfast this week talking about their adoption of the Totally Locally campaign – and we are pleased to see the report encourage this type of engagement amongst retailers.” 

The report also calls for a shift to ‘new uses and purposes which foster social interaction, community spirit and local identity and characteristics’, which again play to the strengths of bookshop across the country.
Halls concluded: “We have seen many reports into the High Street – the Clone Town reports, the Portas Review, the Grimsey Reviews 1 and 2 – and what’s important now is that the Government really listens to what is being suggested and acts fast. With the massive preoccupation of Brexit dominating everything, we worry this report and its many excellent suggestions will be overlooked. We urge the Government to act urgently to create vibrant, lively, well-funded and properly planned high street communities, rather than let the long slow death by a thousand cuts continue.”