Why not “Wipe the Slate Green” when it comes to retail business rates reform?

It is common consensus that the UK retail business rates system is broken. It is unfair and inappropriate for this omnichannel world.

However much of the dialogue on reform has revolved around the ‘battle between channels.’ Does it not seem equally inappropriate and narrow-minded that this should be the criteria for rates improvement?

Retail is not a battle between channels. Retail has always been, and remains to this day, a battle between retailers! Therefore, it seems logical that some part of the business rate should be defined at retailer level.

It also seems logical that how we judge individual retailers should reflect the mood and sentiment of this age. That retailer credit & debt to councils, governments, and to customers, should be judged on criteria beyond simple location, or sales and profit…but on governance, on ethics and on sustainability.

The beauty of business rates (not an expression that you hear often) is that it is taken considering the tangible customer interface – the shop.

Could we consider in our business rates evaluation…the allocation of shop profits which are completely or partly donated to charity, the % of resell, repair and recycled products, the % of products with production & origins information, the hours paid to staff to allow them to volunteer for local causes, the number of local staff, the number of apprentices, the tonnes of non-recycled waste produced…and so on.

Such criteria would not prejudice between local shops of multiples, between independents & internationals…but evaluate fairly on the benefits & detriments of each shop as an entity in the locations that they inhabit. Surely, this principle should be at the heart of any good local business rates system?

This process is equally applicable to online shops for a ‘digital rates tax?’ Could we not consider…the number of re-sell products on a site, the number of products with profits donated to charities, the number of products with supply-chain information, and the number of product returned by customers to the site?

Is it not more honest, and fair to simply tax what is before our eyes, rather than what is concealed from them, even when this will require a more costly, and hands-on evaluation process?

For that is also no bad thing, if local authorities do become more aware of the good and bad retailers in their towns, rather than they remain as names and numbers on spreadsheets? Should it not be anyway, the responsibility of all good councils, to understand the shopkeepers selling to their constituents?  

We have a rates system that needs reform. We also need ways to reward and penalise retailers for their sustainability, for their ethics, and for their governance. Is it beyond the ‘wit-of-man’ to be able to combine these two needs in a way that is fair and that defines business rates, not only on location, footfall, and financial success, but also on the wider good, or damage, of shops to the planet, to physical communities, to their customers, and to their workforce?

Of course, “This is easier said than done!” But what is even easier, is to simply say “This is easier said than done!” Whilst in the end, we do nothing!

In the meantime…

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