Business leaders attack craft fair ‘solution’ to empty shops

In addition to thousands of retail properties becoming empty as big names like Zavvi and Whittards have joined the brand graveyard, about 2500 post offices will be lost over the next 18 months, reducing the total number from 14,300 to about 11,800. Added to the massive cuts announced by RBS and other high street banks, it means a huge number of empty retail units coming onto the market.

The British Property Federation’s long-standing battle against empty rates has spawned a campaign website at backed by hundreds of the country’s biggest brands.

The BPF is set to write to the Chancellor Alistair Darling ahead of next week’s Budget calling for the tax to be scrapped.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said: "Culture and creativity are part of the answer to tough economic times. Liverpool’s success as European Capital of Culture showed what culture can do to build people and places and create a sense of confidence and pride. I believe that, now more than ever, we should play to our strengths as a creative nation.”

Speaking at the launch event in Stockport, BPF chief executive Liz Peace, said: "This is typical Government spin, turning a situation of property owners being left with liabilities into an excuse to hold a craft fair. Surely it would make more sense to help firms to not go out of business in the first place and ensure that, should this happen, the landlord isn’t then further penalised by empty rates which is a tax on hardship?

"The closure of countless bank and retail outlets means there will be a massive rise in empty high street space, yet the Government is refusing to use a measure included within the empty rates law that allows it to re-apply relief. If that rule wasn’t meant to be used in the current climate then when was it meant to be used?

"While today’s measures may be of help to a small handful of shops, what the public actually wants is an end to empty rates – which are the business equivalent of making the unemployed pay income tax."

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Confidence in a community comes from a vibrant, economically successful, town centre. Clearly there’s a need for information centres and play groups but local economies need shops to be filled with thriving retailers supporting real jobs."

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