THE leader of BCP Council has said the authority is talking to Beales about what “temporary support” it can offer as work goes on to save the struggling department store.

Beales is holding “closing down” sales at all its 23 stores as administrators work to find a buyer for all or part of the business.

In a letter published in the Daily Echo today, council leader Cllr Vikki Slade has responded to calls from Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns for the council to apply discounts to Beales’ business rates in Bournemouth and Poole. The rates bill for its Bournemouth store alone is around £440,000 a year.

She said Beales’ problems were down to “not the decline of a single store but the whole business model”.

She said she had been calling for reform of business rates for more than a decade and urged Mr Burns to lobby the government.

While acknowledging Beales’ “proud local heritage”, she questioned whether the council tax payer should pick up the bill.

“We have been talking to the management of Beales to better understand what temporary support might be provided but this has to be balanced against our commitments to elderly care, street lighting, coroner services, children’s social care, highway maintenance and all the other services we must deliver, in increasingly challenging financial circumstances,” she said.

She urged MPs in towns which have a Beales branch to lobby government “while we use our local levers to review policy and take appropriate action”.

Bournemouth town centre councillor Mike Greene has urged the council to consider helping Beales through a rates discount.

“Rather than just blurt out the obvious, this council has got to really look into the situation on an individual basis. It’s got to work out where its priorities are as far as Bournemouth town centre and the high street and BCP is concerned,” he said.

“If that means that in an individual case, business rates are what would make the difference between a business surviving and not surviving, then that should be looked at.”

Tony Williams, chief executive of Wessex Entrepreneurs, said he feared Beales did not have a future.

“Without doubt, Beales has not changed with modern trends,” he said.

He feared BCP could not afford to give the store relief on its rate bill. “BCP is doing the best I think with what financial assets they have but they’re being pressed by central government,” he said.