The call came from the Association of Convenience Stores’ chief executive, James Lowman, who was giving evidence as part of a Public Bill Committee hearing on the Local Government Finance Bill.
The Local Government Finance Bill includes provisions for local authorities to reduce business rates, and for combined authorities (those with elected mayors) to introduce levies on rate-payers to raise money for infrastructure projects, in addition to allowing local authorities to retain their rates revenue.
Lowman said: “We support existing powers for local authorities to give discretionary rate relief to help businesses in their area, and this should be done more. We are sceptical that councils would actually use their new powers to reduce business rates bills.
“When considering local authorities’ ability to raise revenue for infrastructure projects through business rates, we are concerned that as the majority of convenience store customers come from within a quarter of a mile of their store, the potential positive impact of large-scale infrastructure projects on a store with very local customers is questionable.
“We support the principle of local authorities having more tools to support businesses through the business rates system. However, we want to make sure that they’re being used effectively to promote investment and sustainability and that the convenience sector is not neglected in favour of other, more lucrative, types of business.”
In a submission to the Local Government Finance Bill in 2016, ACS called on the Government to ensure that small businesses with a rateable value of under £50,000 will be exempt from any infrastructure levies.
ACS also continues its calls to Government to reform the business rates system by going further on rural rate reliefs and reviewing the appropriateness of separate rating systems for petrol forecourts and ATM machines, both of which are integral parts of the convenience sector.