Council bosses have defended their record after it was revealed there are 139 empty shops on the borough’s high streets and it has received just two applications for the discount available to businesses moving into them.
Under the government’s Business Rates Reoccupation Relief Scheme, introduced in 2014, a 50 per cent discount is available for 18 months to those moving into retail premises empty for a year or more.
Kevin Horkin, the Conservative party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hyndburn, said the empty shops were ‘bad enough’ but claimed that the council had been ‘deficient’ in publicising and delivering the scheme.
He added that both applications had been granted and said businesses just needed to know about the scheme.
He said: “The government wants to encourage thriving and diverse town centres and to see the number of vacant shops decrease.”
He added that this could only happen if councils were aware of the scheme and understood how they could help proprietors keen to move into empty premises and said he could not understand why the council was failing to support the scheme as it should.
He said: “We can’t expect to deliver much needed change to our townships if we don’t know how to make it happen - Hyndburn deserves better!”
Pauline Duckworth, Hyndburn council’s head of benefits and revenues, said the scheme restricts assistance to only new businesses and requires premises to have been vacant for a minimum of one year before qualifying.
She said that scheme details were available via their contact centre and on the council website, ‘currently under review’ so people were clear of the rates payable and reliefs they were eligible for prior to signing a lease.
She added that the council recognised the importance of a vibrant retail sector and had promoted the government’s Rates Relief scheme.
She said that in 2014/15 the council had automatically awarded another discount - Retail Relief, where eligible businesses with a rateable value of £50,000 and under can receive a reduction of up to £1,500, to 422 businesses, re-awarding it in 2015/16 to those who were in receipt of it the previous year.
But she added that any new businesses from the financial year 2014/15 had to apply for both Reoccupation and Retail Relief.
Mr Horkin is contesting the Hyndburn seat on May 7 against Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens.
Lib Dem candidate Alison Firth called for an overhaul of the system.
She said: “Our system of business rates was created nearly 30 years ago. Since that time, the worlds of commerce and industry have changed beyond recognition. representations made by the business community have been that business rates are a considerable cost and that reform is needed.”
Labour’s parliamentary candidate Graham Jones said: “The reason there has been only two applications for the Business Rates Reoccupation Relief scheme is that it is automatically applied when businesses move into empty premises.
“The scheme has been a huge success for the council with 422 businesses receiving the automatic discount, the fewer applications there are the better.”
The Green Party’s candidate Kerry Gormley said: “I think the council are failing to get their message out. They only seem interested in getting Broadway and the Arndale filled with big names, whereas Warner Street looks great with independent shops.”
Speaking on behalf of candidate Janet Brown, Paul Thompson, from UKIP, said: “As a businessman I think Hyndburn is changing and I think we have to change with it.”