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Business Rates on Empty Properties - Minister defends the indefensible

November 18th,  2008

Local Government Minister Hazel Blears has today once again sought to defend this Government's  policy of imposing 100% business rates on empty commercial and retail premises.

At question time on the floor of the House North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale

"What possible justification can there be for imposing 100% business rates upon empty shops and commercial properties for which there is no market and that cannot be sold and cannot be let" ?

In response the Minister said that the tax was to "encourage owners of commercial properties to let them" and said that "if we abolished this tax then the money raised would have to come from somewhere else".  She repeated the assertions when questioned further by Shadow Secretary of State Eric Pickles.

Speaking after the exchange Roger Gale said:

"This is the politics of the madhouse.  We are imposing a policy that was dreamed up years ago under very different economic circumstances and introduced on All Fools Day this year at the start of what we now know to be a deepening recession.  In the Wonderland that this Alice Minister inhabits there are clearly queues of shopkeepers and manufacturers waiting to pay rent for premises: in the real world of East Kent life is, sadly, just not like that. Charging the owners of these premises retrospective rates on empty properties is about the same as tying a stone to the leg of a drowning man and telling him to swim!

We know of people who have owned small retail businesses who have retired and let their properties on to generate a modest pension. Subsequent businesses have now closed and those people find themselves not only without their pension income but facing demands for rates that they simply cannot pay!

The Secretary of State has the power to end this situation at the stroke of a pen but in a letter to me earlier in the month he has made it plain that an unthinking and uncaring department intends to blunder on causing hardship. This is a disgrace."

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