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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New business rates schemes for Wales unveiled

Two new business rates schemes have been announced by Economy Minister Edwina Hart to help revitalise Welsh High Streets and stimulate and encourage speculative commercial development.
The schemes, announced in a statement to Assembly Members, are in response to the recommendations from the Task and Finish Group that examined how the business rates regime in Wales could be used to encourage economic development.
The two new schemes Open for Business and New Developments represent an anticipated investment of over £5m by the Welsh Government which will provide a grant to local authorities to run the programmes.

The Minister said: “These two schemes send a clear message that Wales is open for business and will provide an incentive to construction and the reoccupation of long-term empty properties.

"In addition Open for Business will  support all businesses considering a move into a long term vacant retail property, for example businesses in the first year of trading or those considering a move closer to a town centre.”

Open for Business is expected to cost around £2.5m and will run until 31 March 2015 to encourage re-occupation of long term vacant retail properties, particularly in town centres and shopping areas.

Open for Business funds 50% relief on business rates for eligible properties for up to 12 months from the first date of occupation.

The retail properties will have had to have been unoccupied for a continuous period of 12 months or more and have a rateable value of no more than £45K. Similar schemes run in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The New Developments Scheme is estimated to be worth over £2.8m and will exempt all newly built commercial property from business rates for the first 18 months and will run until September 30 2016.

This scheme will extend the exemption period for new build developments to 18 months and give an incentive to developers in Wales and could boost construction.

Professor Brian Morgan, who chaired the Review Group, said: “I think the new schemes being announced today offer common-sense and pragmatic ways in which the Welsh Government can work with the property sector to facilitate new developments and also encourage investment in vacant premises in our towns.

“A lack of new modern business space is hindering economic recovery in Wales and the New Developments scheme will help kick start speculative development. Similarly Open for Business will offer an important avenue for encouraging more diversified investments into empty properties in our town centres.

“Taken together, these measures will provide a consistent and coherent approach to working with the private sector to create a more competitive environment for Welsh businesses to expand.” 

* Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Business Minister, has accused the Business Minister of costing Wales jobs due to uncertainty over the future of business rate relief for charities.
The Business Minister has decided to delay her decision on business rates relief for charities.
Instead she plans to work with the UK Government and other devolved administrations to discuss the proposals.
The Business Minister has also announced that she is to introduce two further business rates schemes to help businesses.
Eluned Parrott AM said: “Today’s announcement should have nailed the coffin lid on proposals to hike taxes on charities, however the Minister decided to fudge the decision.  I’m pleased the Minister has finally taken some action to tackle the blight of empty properties, but the uncertainty over the future of charity business rates could actually mean more empty shops on our high streets.
“Due to the Minister’s proposals to cut rates relief for charities, we have already heard that some charities have abandoned plans to expand in Wales.  Sadly the uncertainty will remain until the Minister categorically says these proposals will never see the light of day.  This lack of clarity is costing Wales jobs and investment.
“It’s ironic that with one hand the Minister is aiming to encourage businesses to fill Wales’ empty shops, but with the other she is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and concern that we know has prevented a number of charities doing exactly that.
“Charities are telling me that they won’t invest and expand in Wales until there is clarity over future future proposals.   The Minister had a chance to end that uncertainty today, yet refused to do so.”

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