A SCHEME to offer around 1,500 South Lakeland retail businesses more than £1m in rate relief could be adopted.

The move to provide of up to £1,000 help per firm will be discussed at the next meeting of South Lakeland District Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday.

Designed to give local businesses a chance to compete on a more level playing field with internet retailers, the one-off Government initiative would benefit firms with a rateable value of less than £50,000.

Businesses including shops, restaurants, hair salons, art galleries, post offices, petrol stations, cafes and pubs would be considered for relief.

The ‘Retail Relief’ initiative is at the discretion of local authorities and was announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the Autumn Statement.

Under the scheme, buildings with a rateable value of more than £50,000 would not receive relief and some companies such as banks, building societies, estate agents, doctors and solicitors would not be included.

The scheme would be put in place over the next two years in South Lakeland so firms would also receive rates relief in 2015. If the scheme is adopted, relief will be awarded to qualifying businesses in bills due to be issued in March, 2014.

The prospect of rate relief was welcomed Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, who said: “A £1,000 retail discount will make a huge difference to small shops and local traders throughout South Lakeland.

“Small businesses make our high street what it is. I am doing all I can to fight for them and I’ll keep lobbying the Government to give them even more help and support. Thriving small businesses mean a thriving local economy.”

Coun Sue Sanderson, portfolio holder for environment and people, said: “In these difficult financial times this new business rate relief scheme will provide a welcome bonus for the many excellent small and medium sized businesses in our district.

“We are keen to assist where we can and it is good we are able to give them this support.”

Alan Raven, revenues and benefits manager for SLDC, said: “We are currently identifying businesses that qualify for the scheme. The council’s aim is to get the relief on bills that will go out in March. However, where this is not possible if the council is uncertain about the use of the property, there will be an opportunity to apply for the relief afterwards.

“Businesses will have to confirm to us that they meet the requirements of the scheme which are laid out by the Government. Rates relief is classed as state aid so we have to ensure that businesses do not contravene European Union rules on state aid.”