Calls to levy supermarkets rejected by Hartlepool councillors

The Asda store in Hartlepool.
The Asda store in Hartlepool.

SENIOR councillors have rejected calls to back a national campaign that would give local authorities power to introduce a new levy on business rates for supermarkets.

So far dozens of councils in England - led by Derby City Council - are seeking powers to put a levy on business rates for supermarkets.

They argue that the power of the supermarket sometimes operates against communities, particularly by squeezing out small retailers and businesses.

In Hartlepool there are only three retailers with a rateable value in excess of £500,000 and they are all supermarkets and these three retailers together pay £3.46m in Business Rates, 10.5 per cent of the total business rates collected in town.

An 8.5 per cent Levy would generate a further yield of £294,000 but it is unclear, at this stage, whether the Levy Yield would be subject to sharing with central government under the localisation of business rates arrangements.

Councillors on Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee have rejected the proposal over concerns any costs would be passed onto customers.

They also argued that the three main supermarkets in town, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons already do a lot for the community and there was also concerns over how it would affect revenue grants for councils.

A report by John Morton, the council’s assistant chief finance officer, said: “The introduction of a supermarket levy may have the potential to yield a new revenue stream that could be used to improve local communities.

“However, the large supermarket chains are likely to resist and challenge this potential legislation, will argue that they already pay significant levels of business rates and are operating in a difficult trading environment with new higher levels of competition.

“In addition, there are uncertainties as to the proportion of any Levy Yield that would accrue to the council or whether the Government would in response reduce the level of revenue grant for councils.”

After a discussion, members voted against by a majority, with UKIP’s Tom Hind supporting the plans.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said he didn’t think the council should support the scheme but keep a watching brief on what the government decides to do.

Labour councillor Chris Simmons added: “Supermarkets have a habit of passing on their costs to customers and I think people in this town are already facing enough difficulty in meeting their household bills.”

UKIP’s Tom Hind, who said the levy aims to help support high streets devastated by large supermarket chains, added: “I think we need to look at this in a different light.”

The proposals will now go before full council tonight at 7pm at the Civic Centre.