Plea to Government about business rates

Two of the Midland’s leading business organisations are calling on Government to consider the impact of Covid-19 on firms before announcing any change of policy on business rates.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub and the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce believe the Government needs to show flexibility in the payment of rates and that no major overhaul to the rates system should be implemented while the pandemic ravages the economy.

There have been a stream of grants and loans given to businesses since the pandemic spread to the UK last March, while the furlough system is still in operation.

The Growth Hub and the Chamber both feel that for the Government to hand out money for Covid relief, only to claim it back through rates will not only hit businesses hard but would be totally inefficient.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Chamber, said it would send out the wrong message on several levels.

She said: “Businesses – if they have been able to trade at all – have had to cut right back and be as efficient and lean as possible, so to then see the Government issuing money only to reclaim it weeks later would not be good practice on any level.

“Government has offered unprecedented support to business considering the devastating nature of Covid but to just allow rates to be charged and collected in the normal way – especially when most business premises have not been used for most of the year – seems totally illogical.

“We would ask the Government to look at the issue now well in time for the budget in March so that there can be clarity.”

While business rates are charged nationally, they are collected by local councils, and Craig Humphrey, managing director of the CWLEP Growth Hub, believes any simplification and reduction of red tape is vital for the authorities.

He said: “Our local authorities across Coventry and Warwickshire have performed well in getting money out quickly to businesses, and it has been a massive drain on resources, so we would ask the Government to bear that in mind when there have been calls to reform rates.

“While the first tranche of grants were issued very smoothly, we are hearing that guidance and delivery software on the latest batch, was not supplied to councils in time and that has resulted in delays which will prove very damaging to business.

“We would ask the Government just to take a step back to establish a clear and concise stance on rates and ensure that it is communicated in plenty of time ahead of the budget.

“With some light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of the vaccine it would be all too easy to undo much of the good work that has gone into supporting our businesses.”