Welcome to the July 2021 'Need to Know' update. You'll find the latest key information on Business Rates in England, CMA investigating Amazon and Google, Town Deals for England, Companies House changes, and FSB calling for regulatory reform.
New Business Rates regime for England
The businesses rates system in England will have more frequent property revaluations, under proposals unveiled by the government.
Under the plans, revaluations of non-domestic properties would take place every three years instead of the current system of five - ensuring they better reflect changing economic conditions.
The proposals were set out in a government consultation that will form one part of its Fundamental Review of Business Rates, which will be published later this Autumn.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said: “As our economy is recovering, we are supporting businesses to build back better.
“Proposals set out in this consultation would mean that valuations more quickly reflect how the economy is performing, making the business rates system more accurate and responsive, while balancing the burden for ratepayers.”
The Local Government Finance Act 1988 introduced 5-yearly revaluations. The first modern revaluation was implemented in 1990. The revaluations since then have been implemented in 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2017. The government had previously undertaken to move to more frequent revaluations, having introduced legislation to bring forward the next revaluations to 2021 - based on 2019 property values. Due to COVID, and to help reduce uncertainty for firms, this was delayed, with the next revaluation set to take effect in 2023 – based on 2021 values.
The Fundamental Review of Business rates, launched in July 2020, conducted a call for evidence which found more frequent revaluations to be a priority for respondents. The government has therefore set out specific proposals through this consultation on how a sustainable system of revaluations every 3-years might be achieved.
See the consultation here: https://bit.ly/3juHkJk
CMA to investigate Amazon and Google over fake reviews
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will investigate Amazon and Google to see if they have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews.
The move comes after an initial CMA investigation, which opened in May 2020, and assessed several platforms’ internal systems and processes for identifying and dealing with fake reviews.
This work has raised specific concerns such as whether Amazon and Google have been doing enough to:
- Detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behaviour. For example, where the same users have reviewed the same range of products or businesses at similar times to each other and there is no connection between those products or businesses – or where the review suggests that the reviewer has received a payment or other incentive to write a positive review.
- Investigate and, where necessary, remove promptly fake and misleading reviews from their platforms.
- Impose adequate sanctions on reviewers or businesses to deter them and others from posting fake or misleading reviews on their platforms – including those who have published these types of reviews many times.
The CMA is also concerned that Amazon’s systems have been failing adequately to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings – for example, by co-opting positive reviews from other products.
Fake and misleading reviews have the potential to impact on businesses’ star ratings and how prominently companies and products are displayed to consumers, changing their whole shopping experience.
Read more here: https://bit.ly/3qDEZwR
Thirty towns to share £725 million to help communities
Thirty towns in England will share over £700 million to boost their local economies, create jobs and help them rebuild after the disruption caused by the pandemic.
These new Towns Deals range from seaside towns like Hastings and Hartlepool to the historic market towns of Bedford and Bishop Auckland.
The money will help them to grow their local economies, while also carving out new opportunities to reshape the look and feel of their areas.
The government says the deals will help breathe new life into neglected areas or unused buildings by creating vibrant spaces for businesses, community events or much needed new homes.
Projects also include renovations to attractions like Hastings Castle helping to boost the cultural and tourism offers of towns.
Sustainability is at the heart of many of the schemes with new greener transport infrastructure including cycle paths and pedestrian walkways that will connect areas in the greenest way possible.
Ministers predict the deals will also create thousands of jobs, with many towns investing in opportunities to improve skills through new vocational training hubs that will support high skilled and higher paid jobs in the area for local people.
Read more here: https://bit.ly/3yar8AM
Changes to Companies House protected online filing
Improvements to Companies House online services have helped prevent unauthorised company name changes.
PROOF is a free service which lets you protect your company from unauthorised or fraudulent changes to your records. It prevents the filing of certain paper forms, such as changes to your company’s registered office address or directors’ details.
From last month, two documents you need to change a company name have been added to the PROOF service. These are:
- form NM01 (notice of change of name by resolution)
- copy of resolution (change of name by special resolution)
A change of name by special resolution accounts for the majority of company name changes we receive, and is currently the only type of name change you can submit electronically.
Amy Harcombe, Filing Service Owner at Companies House, said: “At Companies House our strategic goals include maintaining registers that inspire trust and confidence, while also providing a brilliant user experience for our customers.
“The changes to the PROOF service are an important step towards fulfilling these goals.”
Access the Companies House webfiling service here: https://bit.ly/3hezpNa
FSB report calls for new regulatory model for small firms
Regulatory requirements are a key concern for small businesses and the time is ripe for changes to the UK’s regulation system, according to FSB.
Long before the pandemic and the country’s exit from the European Union, small businesses were struggling to manage the regulatory changes they were expected to keep across on a day-to-day basis.
Since a new EU-UK trade deal took effect, around a fifth of small firms say they have a reduced understanding of the regulations they are faced with in the round, with almost 40 percent struggling to understand new rules linked to fresh arrangements with the EU.
Off the back of the findings, FSB is recommending a British Columbia style regulatory system, which would help to capitalise on the opportunities that withdrawing from the bloc presents.
In the early 2000s, the Province underwent huge changes to their regulatory system which saw unnecessary rules and bureaucracy slashed, while crucially ensuring other regulations were clear to understand, helping to spur productivity.
The reforms saw the regulatory burden, including the slimming down of paperwork that small businesses need to complete for different parts of government, reduced by a third.
FSB is urging the Government to learn from the British Columbia model, appointing a minister to be accountable for the Government’s regulatory reduction programme, alongside:
- A public central database of all regulatory requirements, with a league table showing departmental progress against the one third reduction target.
- On reaching the one third target, installation of a ‘one-in, one-out’ or ‘one-in, two-out’ rule regarding new regulations.
- Widespread reform of regulation culture within the UK, moving the country towards simplified regulations and regulatory requirements, and reinvigoration of Departments as they undertake regulatory impact assessments on new proposals.
Small business bodies across the G7 nations unite to represent small business
Small business bodies representing firms from across G7 nations and the European Union have called on conference leaders to put smaller enterprises “at the heart of economic recovery plans” as finance ministers met in London and Cornwall.
In a joint statement, issued after a meeting of the groups convened by FSB last month, the SME7 collective also urges leaders to “support small businesses on their journeys to reduce carbon emissions”, “address the digital divide” and “champion a small business-friendly international trading framework”, asks aligning with the G7 policy priority areas outlined by the Government.
Small and mid-sized firms make-up 99% of businesses across the G7. The groups, which together represent 13 million businesses internationally, argue that smaller firms and sole traders “must be top of mind” as conference talks progress.
In addition to the joint statement, FSB has put forward seven specific recommendations covering the G7 priority areas. The UK’s largest business group is urging policymakers to:
- Introduce a World Trade Organisation (WTO) committee dedicated to the trading needs of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as outlined in its ‘Trading Forward’ study.
- Ensure any future free trade agreements include dedicated small business chapters, so that smaller firms can make the most of preferential terms, comparable to that included in the EU-UK deal.
- Unlock the potential of small firms that sell goods and services online by removing barriers to access and digitising customs paperwork, as set out in ‘Destination Digital’.
- Follow the five principles it has set out to ensure smaller firms can successfully make the transition to a net zero economy.
- Introduce digital vouchers to ensure small firms can access the right tech and training.
- Deliver full fibre broadband connectivity for every small business premises.
- Radically reform business taxation to make it fairer for small businesses at the heart of community high streets, as proposed in ‘Streets Ahead’.