A “BROKEN” system of business rates is one of the key factors behind the shop closures which are blighting high streets, it has been claimed.

Retailers locally have backed the claim by the president of the CBI that the rating system is now “unsustainable”.

Tony Brown, chief executive of Bournemouth-based Beales, said: “The rating system and the rates we pay should be regarded as a national scandal.

“In 2018, 150,000 jobs were lost in retail. If that was car factories and steel works, the government would be drawing up a strategy, but because it’s retail and the high street they don’t care.

“I pay over £3milion a year in business rates. Bournemouth costs £448,000 a year in business rates, just for one store.

“In Hexham we pay more in rates than in rent. The landlord has reduced the rent but the council won’t reduce the rates.”

Mr Brown said councils would offer his shops rate relief to attract them into a town but not to support them staying there.

Helena Hudson, founder of the Real Eating Company, which has a cafe in central Bournemouth, has previously revealed that business rates account for around 26p of the £2.75 price of a standard latte – with 31p taken up by rent and 64p by staff costs.

She said: “I believe that the argument is not about business rates per se but about fairness – treating online retailers, large private equity-owned or debt-funded chains and the independent retailer fairly.

“The system is broken. It seems more pressure is being put on smaller retailers than ever before to carry the cost for others. The more shops that close, the more the ones that are open will have to pay.”

Debenhams, which is seeking agreement for a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to deal with its debts, is reported to be asking 50 councils for a cut in its rate bills.

Ms Hudson said it the consequences for independent traders would be “very bleak” if a national chain could persuade councils to reduce its rates bills.

Marcus Andrews, director for valuation services at Dorset property firm Goadsbym is chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the south west.

He said: “People want a vibrant high street at the heart of their community. Yet the combination of Brexit uncertainty and competition from online retailers mean small independent businesses, in particular, are finding it harder to stay afloat.

“The RICS are calling on the government to bring in an urgent review of business rates, with the aim of improving the whole system and help provide a shot in the arm for our ailing high streets.”

He said retailers improving the energy efficiency of their sites with solar panels or ground source heat pump systems were penalised with higher rates because the premises were considered more valuable.

CBI president John Allan told a meeting in London yesterday that the rating system needed a “fundamental rethink” and was partly responsible for the problems of the high street.

He said the government had only “tweaked” the system in recent years, adding: “The more sticking plaster we add, the greater the signal that the system is broken and in need of a fundamental rethink.”

Financial secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride said: “Following our review of business rates in 2016, we’re introducing reforms that will make the business rates system fairer and lower business rates bills by £13 billion over the next five years.”