The Government's Autumn Statement has been the recent subject of many analysts but what did it mean for businesses? 

A recent consultation for business related to the Government’s review of business rates, where the government committed to reform the business rates system by delivering more frequent business rates revaluations and new reliefs in order to help properties go green. The Government said it has considered and concluded the business rates consultation within the recent Autumn Statement. However, there has been much commentary about the Autumn Statement for businesses and whether or not it will in fact assist the majority of occupiers.

The Government had promoted that the business package in the Autumn Statement as assisting occupiers of commercial property and is a package which "exceeds expectations from stakeholders including business representative organisations, ratings agencies and large retailers". The Government further added that nearly two-thirds of properties would not pay a penny more in rates next year and thousands of pubs, restaurants and small high street shops would benefit.

In essence, the Autumn Statement in November introduced four key principles:

  • freezing the business rates multiplier for another year;
  • an extended and increased relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses;
  • reforming transitional relief - the Government will make sure businesses will benefit from seeing lower bills as a result of a revaluation straight away by abolishing downwards transitional relief caps. A scheme was also introduced to cap bill increases for businesses who will see higher bills as a result of the revaluation; and
  • protection for small businesses who lose eligibility for either Small Business or Rural Rate Relief due to new property valuations through a "Supporting Small Business Scheme".

It has been widely acknowledged by industry experts that some of the principles above have been welcomed, such as the unpopular downward phasing element of the transitional relief scheme, which has been campaigned against in recent months. The frozen business rates multiplier has also been seen as a lifeline for a high-street business who had been paying business rates at a level which has been much higher than rental values for several years.  

It is clear from the commentary across industry experts that there is a general recognition that high-streets would benefit from the four principles mentioned above, but there is a concern the Government has essentially papered over the issues and that a total reform of the business rates system is required in order to assist businesses in the future. One of the main concerns is the multiplier remains high so rates are still above where they should be and the much sought-after return to the 35p in the pound multiplier, called for by many industry experts recently, should have been implemented by the Government. 

Industry experts have, however, made it clear the revaluation is the Government taking from one sector in order to assist another sector. BNP Paribas commented on the day of the  Autumn Statement, "the Chancellor of the Exchequer expects the revaluation and today’s measures combined, will reduce rates paid by the retail sector by some 20%, whilst logistics and distribution’s liability will increase by 27%, thus re-balancing liabilities between these sectors". During the Autumn Statement in 2021, this method was condemned by some commentators such as Altus Group who suggested the Government need to do more because "asking under-performing sectors and regions to pay more in tax to help subsidise those better faring economies simply does not support the ambitious desire to “level-up” the fortunes of struggling towns left behind – nor does it satisfy the principles underpinning any system of taxation, fairness and supporting growth."

It will be interesting to see how the principles will work in practice and to see whether they do in fact help the wider business community, or whether a total reform of the business tax system is required to support, enable and promote growth across the UK.