Boss of Debenhams urges aid for high street

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Debenhams has urged the Chancellor to help ease the burden on retailers in today's Budget, as the department store chain delivered a rise in first-half sales.

Despite the uptick in recent sales from its well-received spring clothing offer, Michael Sharp, right, said he had "not seen any change to the economic situation or consumer confidence".

He said George Osborne should change the way business rates are calculated, simplify the planning system, help young people back to work and stick to the Government's commitment to cut red tape.

Arguably, the biggest challenge facing retailers is the 5.6 per cent hike in business rates to be introduced next month, calculated on the retail price index hitting a 20-year high in September. RPI fell to 3.7 per cent in February. Mr Sharp believes it would be "fairer" if business rates took into account "broader inflationary pressure as opposed to a moment in time".

Debenhams, which has 170 stores, grew its total sales by 1.4 per cent for the 26 weeks to 3 March. The group delivered a 2.4 per cent rise in underlying sales over the last eight weeks of the period, up on a 1.4 per cent rise in like-for-like sales over the half year.