THE owner of Sports Direct has joined other retail giants including Hampshire-based B&Q in calling for urgent action on business rates.

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group – which includes Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Flannels – said the sector was in “dire straits”.

A letter from 52 retailers voicing concern over the issue will be in the in-tray of the new chancellor, Southampton-raised Rishi Sunak.

They are particularly concerned about the “transitional relief” rules which were intended to cushion retailers from rising bills following a revaluation of their properties.

The system allows a slower transition for those whose bill is going up, but also means slower reductions for those whose rates are going down.

Frasers – which has Sports Direct stores in Southampton’s Above Bar, Eastleigh’s Swan centre and Whiteley Village – said: “Transitional relief in particular is disastrous for a great many retailers and needs to be significantly modified to at least ensure the correct amount of rates are paid by the end of transitional relief periods.

“The current system whereby downward transitions of just a few per cent a year means that the correct amount is never reached, or even close to, punishes those in greatest need of relief.”

Mr Ashley’s business added some stores pay up to four times the rates bills they should be.

“This kind of pattern clearly cannot be right and is no doubt repeated widely across UK retail; it is a significant contributor to the dire straits the high street currently finds itself in,” the company added.

The Chandlers Ford-based DIY giant B&Q is among the 52 retailers who had signed a letter calling on the government to change the transitional relief system, which it said had left the industry subsidising others to the tune of £543million over the past three years. Other signatories included Asda, Greggs and Ann Summers.

The letter was sent to Sajid Javid, who quit as chancellor last Thursday to be replaced by Mr Sunak.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It is essential our new Chancellor makes good on the government’s pledge to reform this broken system.

“Swift action at the upcoming budget would show the chancellor was serious about levelling up all parts of the UK and supporting a retail industry towards realising a brighter future.”

Rates were among the problems facing the department store chain Beales, which is currently in administration, threatening the future of the Fareham store it opened last year.

The boss of Shoe Zone repeated his warnings at the weekend that he could have to shut 100 stores unless there were urgent changes to business rates.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said closing a fifth of his branches was the only option because the rating system was “in turmoil”.

The chain has Southampton stores at the Marlands Centre, Shirley High Street and Bitterne Road, as well as at Eastleigh’s Swan Centre, Fareham Shopping Centre and Gosport High Street.