Small businesses in Lancashire have been thrown a lifeline with a discount on their business rates this year.
In Preston alone, it is expected to save more than 500 businesses a total of around £1.7 million.
It could make all the difference for struggling businesses who are being hit by a slump on the high street and rising costs.
The Lancashire Post is backing the Love Your High Street campaign, championing the cause of local businesses.
Help is available from April with a new two year retail discount scheme for business rates.
The Government announced the scheme in the 2018 Autumn Budget.
The discount equates to one third of the business rates bill.
The types of property that will benefit are those with a rateable value less than £51,000 that are mainly used as shops, predominantly for sale of goods to the public such as bakers, florists, newsagents, opticians and so on.
Also restaurants, cafés and drinking establishments are likely to qualify.
In Preston, the move was welcomed by the city council’s member for resources and performance, Coun Martyn Rawlinson, who said: “I’m sure this will be welcome news for eligible businesses in Preston.
“It can only help small and medium sized companies in terms of retaining local staff, and to reduce their overheads during a difficult period for the high street.
“The council will be following its fairness principles ensuring that all businesses in the city, especially those in the more deprived areas, will be treated equally when applying the retail discount.”
Eligible businesses need not apply for the discount, which will hopefully already be deducted from the amount they pay when they receive their bill in March 2019.
The council will be reimbursed for any discounts awarded, using a grant under Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 so it is not expected that the council will incur any additional costs.
A recent report to Preston Council’s cainet noted: “There are positive equality implications in terms of the retail discount as these relatively small retail businesses are spread across the city and perhaps serving those customers who may not use the more ‘high end’ retailers.
“By this discretionary policy the Council will be following the fairness principles ensuring that all areas of the city, and the businesses located therein, especially those in the more deprived areas, will be treated equitably when applying the retail discount.
“In terms of local employment, this can only help small businesses in terms of retaining local staff.”
Margaret Mason, who has run a florists business in Friargate, Preston, for 58 years, welcomed the business rates discount scheme.
She is one of the small businesses Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget proposals were designed to help.
She said the high street was suffering as a result of the internet and other pressures and it was good that some help was available.
Margaret said: “We really need it. We don’t really know what the future holds.
“It’s so important that we keep our high street shops - sometimes the rates system seems so unfair.
“My business has been here a long time and we are well known, so people come to us.But the high street is changing - we are where we are and we have to deal with it. We have to move
forward and deal with the high street as it is now, not as it was.”
Bernice Newton, who runs the Town House Coffee and Brew Bar in Friargate, Preston, also welcomed the scheme.
She said: "When you are a independent business like ours the amount you have to pay out in overheads is incredible.
"Any discount is a great help.
"Our trade can be so seasonal - for many months we have students in and for the rest of the year we have a completely different trade".
Mark Whittle of Preston Business Improvement District and the North and Western Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the discount scheme.
He said: “It’s a good start, but is it enough?
“The somewhat revolutionary ‘West End Tax Model’ could very well be the answer, whereby consumers pay a one per cent tax levy on their online purchases which is directly used to offset the cost of physical business rates.
“That single change alone could see over £5billion towards reducing the burden on high street businesses.”
He added: “Rate reductions are required beyond the smallest businesses though.
“All retail space, office space, leisure, hospitality, public buildings, new forms of light industrial, education and other uses add to the vibrancy of town centres, are all being impacted by the digital economy, and all have to pay business rates.
“Lower rates for the small stores is not enough if other key footfall generators like banks and post offices continue to disappear.
“The reality is, the volatility of the rates system means even some small businesses find themselves above the threshold and unable to benefit from relief."