Hospitality industry leaders are calling for a halt to hikes in business rates planned for next year, which they say would damage thousands of British businesses. In a letter to cabinet ministers Eric Pickles and Vince Cable, chief executives of the UK's hospitality industry trade bodies said that next year's rates rise of 5.6% is “unprecedented”, and will add to pressures in Britain's hospitality and leisure sector. The letter reiterates that the sector is an important source of jobs and wealth creation and a key part of the UK tourism industry. It also states that with the business confidence brought about by favourable tax policies, the sector could return to the position it occupied in the late 1990s when one in three new jobs in the UK were created in the leisure and hospitality industry. It says that a rates freeze would send a “very positive message to business, encouraging investment and promoting entrepreneurial activity”. Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: “We need a rates freeze. The VAT rise in January hit our businesses hard, with extra taxes on pub and restaurant food, while supermarket food remains zero rated. This is widening the gap between eating out and eating at home. There is no justification for further pain in what are labour-intensive parts of the economy, where jobs can be created." Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Council Tax has been frozen by the Government – and rightly so. Given the benefits it could bring, we need the same approach for business rates. Our leisure and hospitality sector is dominated by small business, like pubs, hotels and restaurants, and they are absolutely key to creating new jobs.” Dominic Harrison, chief executive of Business in Sport & Leisure added: "Business rates are one of the highest costs on businesses. They feed through to the prices of goods and services, reducing customer visits. A freeze would send a clear signal that the Government really understands that we are vital to generating growth and jobs in the economy, and growing our way out of recession. With current uncertainties, the timing couldn't be more vital."