A few months ago, I wrote of the problems that were being caused for some pubs by the overhaul of the business rates system.
This resulted in a number of pubs being faced with large increases in costs which potentially threatened their viability. The chancellor responded to these worries by introducing a couple of measures in the spring budget.
These were that all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 would be given a £1,000 reduction this year, from April 2017 to March 2018, and that a fund of £300 million would be established across England to help businesses (not just pubs) hit hardest by the changes. Since then, all councils should have been contacted by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with guidance on how to identify pubs eligible for help, and a request for an update on the progress of the scheme.
It was expected that all councils should by now have designed their discretionary schemes and begun to deliver them by the end of June 2017.
Reports have been received by CAMRA HQ that many councils are falling behind schedule or have not begun to administer these schemes. I had no idea as to whether our local councils are up to date, or if the businesses entitled to the help are aware that it exists, so I have tried to identify those responsible and contacted them for information. I am not totally convinced I will be successful, so I would encourage any local pubs or other small businesses to check whether they are entitled to receive a slice of the subsidy and to chase up any missing payments. Nationally, CAMRA are running a campaign to try to persuade the government to introduce a permanent business rate relief for pubs.
Ten days later my efforts had been partly successful. Breckland council were straight back to me, and the customer service team emailed that my query “has been forwarded to our Business rates department, who will contact me direct”. Then nothing happened. I tried again and received the standard reply, but again nothing.
I tried yet again and am still awaiting the information.
Closer to home, councillor Middleton, my representative on the West Norfolk council, replied promptly with the news that: “The report on implementing the discretionary business rates reliefs went to Cabinet on 1 August and is subject to Council approval on 31 August 2017. The revised bills will be issued in September, as early as possible. If we are happy that a business qualifies we will look to award relief automatically wherever possible, otherwise an application form will be sent. A press release will be issued after full council.” I have asked to be included on the list for the press release, so should know more by the time that you read this.
Perhaps it is just my personal experience and others find dealing with local government easy, but it seems to me that a lot of time can be wasted by people and businesses trying to access information and support to which they are entitled. I know that CAMRA did intend to organise a mass lobby of parliament to call for reform of business rates, but it has been shelved due to budgetary considerations, but this does not mean that this very real threat to pubs will be ignored. The more pressure that we put on our elected representatives to do the right thing the more likely it is to happen.