What the party manifestos mean for business rates

As the manifestos of Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are unveiled, UK businesses are left with a sense of anticipation and uncertainty. All three parties, while expressing a commitment to support the high street through ‘investment’ and ‘incentives’, leave much to be desired in terms of clarity. Their plans, though presented with an optimistic sheen, reveal a lack of detail that becomes apparent under scrutiny.


While Labour’s promise to ‘stop the chaos’ meets our expectations of vote-winning headlines, when it comes to detailed plans, their proposal to replace Business Rates with a “new system” to “…level the playing field between the high street and online giants, better incentivise investment, tackle empty properties and support entrepreneurship…” lacks any concept of what that replacement might be. With scant detail, businesses can’t anticipate or plan for an overhaul. On the other hand, Labour proposes removing Business Rates relief from public schools, which suggests change may come from tinkering with the current system rather than through enacting meaningful reform.


The proposals set out by the Conservatives appear at first to be more pin-pointed, including a £4.3 billion Business Rates package for SMEs and the high street but are nevertheless vague when it comes to details businesses might use to plan ahead. Their plan to tweak the multiplier for distribution warehouses presents itself as a sticking plaster on an already well-plastered system rather than a noteworthy solution to a wider issue. A significant down-shift on the multiplier would do more to support the many sectors seeking positive change.

Liberal Democrats

While the Liberal Democrats also suggest unclearly that they would implement reform to help support the high street, they maintain their long-running commitment to replace the Business Rates system with a land tax, now a ‘Commercial Landowner Levy’. Not laid out in detail, this plan is fraught with many challenges. It is possible that land registration would need to be fundamentally transformed before it becomes a realistic alternative. It is, therefore, unlikely to be a realistic prospect for change, and an alternative to the current system does not provide certainty to businesses in the future.

Ultimately, when it comes to Business Rates, there is little to do but ‘watch this space’ from July onwards. Despite their shared views on supporting the high street, each party’s reform promises are vague overall, with a few specific tweaks to the current system that raise questions of their own. As of yet, the announcements do not provide the more widespread yet intricate reform the system likely requires.

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