Two new business rates schemes have been announced by Economy Minister Edwina Hart in a bid to revitalise Welsh high streets and encourage 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.
Ms Hart 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.”
‘Open for Business’ is expected to cost around £2.5m and will run until March 2015 to encourage re-occupation of long term vacant retail properties, particularly in town centres and shopping areas.
‘Open for Business’ will fund 50% relief on business rates for eligible properties for up to 12 months.
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 £45,000. Similar schemes run in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The ‘New Developments’ scheme will cost £2.8m and will exempt all newly built commercial property from business rates for the first 18 months and will run until September 2016.
Federation of Small Businesses Welsh Policy Unit Chair Janet Jones said business rates needed to be fully devolved.
She said:“In the absence of that full devolution, it is hardly surprising that we see measures like those announced by the Minister today, which are nothing more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.
“The business rates system in Wales is outdated, iniquitous and broken, and while the measures announced by Mrs Hart will provide some welcome aid to those starting a new business or engaged in speculative development, they will do nothing to ease the pressure on the majority of hard-pressed businesses on high streets across Wales.”