INDEPENDENT shop owners in Penarth town have said that sales figures were on the up in December 2018 compared to 2017, but they are still worried about business rates.

Traders said they were able to buck the trend of high street decline, as big retailers, such as John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks and Spencers all reported weak Christmas trading results.

One particular trader, Justin Horton, said while the weather had put a dampener on footfall during the first two weeks of December, resilient and loyal customers had turned out in force in the run-up to Christmas to buy their gifts from local businesses.

Mr Horton, owner of the childrenswear independent Funky Monkey in Windsor Road, Penarth, said: “After a quiet November, we saw a good increase in sales during December compared to the previous two years; in particular people were really keen to support their local high street and family businesses like ours. We also think that people weren’t fooled by ‘fake’ sales promotions in the big stores and recognised the quality of product and great customer service that Penarth retailers offer.”

Mel Griffin, the owner of Griffin Books, also in Windsor Road, added: “Independent bookshops nationally saw buoyant Christmas trading, and we were no exception. It’s great to see customers valuing the personal service, expertise and distinctive range of stock smaller shops are able to offer, and we hope to see this continue throughout the coming year.”

Worries over Brexit, security, anti-social behaviour and the increasingly high costs of running businesses in Penarth were top of traders’ concerns.

In particular, the high cost of business rates continues to worry businesses in the town – with some saying they are worried about being threatened with closure if business rates rise any further in 2019.

Mr Horton said: “Our business will have to pay nearly £7,000 in business rates this year. That’s on top of our rent, salaries for three members of staff and of course the cost of buying the goods that we sell. Many of our internet-only competitors don’t have to pay significant business rates because they operate from a house or small warehouse with low rates. Essentially, it’s a tax on independent retailers keeping high streets alive and employing local people. The trouble is that if people don’t keep supporting their high streets sales will go down and businesses won’t be able to keep going, the costs are just too high. We’ll end up with ghost towns and internet only retail. There’s room for both types of retail, but we need a level playing field.”

He added: “It’s time for the UK and Welsh governments to set up a task force to revolutionise business rates. The current rate reliefs are temporary and just a sticking plaster. We need a long-term solution that works for all businesses – internet and high street.”