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Frasers Group throws business rates temper tantrum

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Frasers Group PLC (LON:FRAS) has got the hump with the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the level of business rates relief announced in the Budget.

The retailer said the £2mln rates cap on businesses from July 2021 to March 2022 “makes it a near-worthless support package for large retailers”.

The company, formerly known as Sports Direct (or in journalistic circles “Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct”), said the Chancellor’s parsimony “will make it nearly impossible to take on ex-Debenhams sites with the inherent jobs created”.

The retailer suggested it would need to review its entire portfolio to determine stores that are unviable due to what the retailer regards as unrealistic business rates.

“Frasers Group believes that retailers should pay the fair amount of rates in line with realistic rateable values, but instead we continue to have an unwieldy, overly complex, and out of date business rates regime,” the statement concluded.

Bricks and mortar retailers have long complained about the absence of a level playing field in their continued fight to prevent online retailers from eating their lunch.

Some observers have claimed that retailers are paying rates on shops valued at vastly inflated levels, given the implosion of the UK High Street and the drift away from edge of town shopping centres.

“It’s understandable that the Frasers Group has taken another swipe at business rates,” said Danni Hewson, a financial analyst at AJ Bell. 

“Mike Ashley’s retail empire has a lot of skin in the game.

“It’s never disclosed exactly how much rates relief it’s received from the government during the pandemic but with 992 UK stores it must be sizeable.

“Like many retailers, it’s clear Frasers had hoped the Chancellor would use the budget to finally address the much-discussed inequalities between online and bricks and mortar stores, but once again that can was kicked down the road,” the analyst continued.

“Certainly the group’s warning today that the rates support available from July is ‘near worthless’ for large retailers and makes it ‘nearly impossible’ for the business to snap up those huge empty Debenhams stores will be a blow for investors in high street property but ultimately the future of our high streets will be decided by the consumer,” Hewson declared.

Frasers shares were 0.3% higher at 466.2p in afternoon trading.

— adds analyst’s comment and share price —

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