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An urgent call for tax reform to help protect independent local businesses, including craft bakers, is being made ahead of the government’s autumn financial statement next week.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt previously claimed the government was committed to substantial reforms to making the business rates system fairer and more responsive for all ratepayers.

At the last Spring Budget on 15 March 2023, he announced the introduction of the Non-Domestic Rating (NDR) Bill, which included a three-year transitional relief scheme for bill increases with an immediate reduction in bills from 1 April 2023 for 300,000 ratepayers. In addition, the Valuation Office Agency updated the rateable values of all business and other non-domestic property in England and Wales.

Mindful of the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, the government said it would be taking a number of steps to help ratepayers as part of a package worth £13.6bn in total. These included freezing the business rates multiplier for another year; extending and increasing relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses; scrapping downwards transitional reliefs caps for businesses seeing lower bills; and a more generous Supporting Small Business scheme.

However, the Spring reforms were recently described as “just a sticking plaster on a system that is fundamentally broken” by Cake Box CEO and founder Sukh Chamdal.

“We would like to see the Chancellor to be bold in his upcoming Autumn Statement and abolish business rates entirely, replacing them with a system that is fairer and doesn’t stymie the success of small businesses,” Chamdal told British Baker.

“Government after government has launched plans to revive our ailing high streets, but that will not happen until the heavy burden this punitive tax puts on shop owners up and down the country is removed.”

Cake Box operates more than 200 franchise stores across the UK, recently posting a 6.8% increase in first half group revenue compared to the same period the prior year.

Chamdal questioned why an independent store owner was paying more per square footage than a nationwide supermarket. “Like many other retailers on the high street, our Cake Box franchise store owners are the beating hearts of their local areas, yet they suffer under the current regime as their success simply allows local business rates to be increased further,” he lamented.

“Without major reform, this broken system will forever hold back our high streets and subdue the vibrant community of shop owners that make them what they are.”

In a response to these comments, the Craft Bakers Association chief executive Karen Dear said they were fully supportive of any move that makes life easier for smaller high street businesses, such as the craft baker. “This includes abolishing tax rates and replacing with a fairer system,” she noted.

“Small businesses have been the mainstay of many communities for more than 100 years, providing vital services, which is why it is crucial that Government takes all necessary steps to ensure they are here for generations to come.”

Recent consumer research conducted by the CBA found there was still a demand for high street bakeries, with nearly three quarters of all shoppers surveyed claiming they bought at least half of their total bakery from them.

The 2023 Autumn Statement is set to be delivered on 22 November.