Businesses cautiously welcome tax holiday as rates are dropped for hundreds of local firms

Businesses cautiously welcome tax holiday as rates are dropped for hundreds of local firms
Nicolas Heslop

The Chancellor has scrapped the unpopular tax for hundreds of firms in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge next year– which could save some businesses £25,000.

But the budget came before the Prime Minister advised the public that they should no longer go to pubs, restaurants and theatres, which has left many small businesses fearing for their future.

Last night [Tuesday] as the Times went to press, Rishi Sunak also announced that Business Rates will be scrapped for all firms in the hospitality and retail sector, and that ‘cash grants’ worth up to £25,000 will be available for those businesses, as part of his financial support measures to protect the economy during the escalating Covid-19 crisis.

Boris Johnson’s radical measure to try to stop the exponential spread of the coronavirus meant that many pubs closed their doors yesterday.

The move leaves the finances of such venues in a precarious position, and also leaves large numbers of casual staff with no income as they had to be sent home indefinitely.

Across the leisure sector there was already dismay that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s new policy to abolish business rates for small companies would not be sufficient to save them.

The tax break applies to those firms in the leisure, retail and hospitality industry whose premises have a rateable value below £51,000, which is the amount the Council believe the building would generate in rent.

The new measures announced last night mean hundreds more companies in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge will benefit from the rate holiday.

Both authorities have recently issued rates bills for the coming year, but will be writing to eligible businesses to inform them that charges for the year are now to be waived.

Business Rates have long been a bone of contention for business, with many saying the current system is ‘unfair’.

The boss of Beales department store in Tonbridge, Tony Brown, blamed the ‘lunacy’ of the system for the demise of his company, which saw all 23 of his stores close.

“The news will be very welcome by many of my clients,” said Darren Austin, accountant at Synergee, who said many firms he represents have been struggling to pay the tax in recent years. We currently have a number of clients who are getting absolutely clobbered by business rates, but some of them still fall outside the £51,000, in which case they get no help.

“What would have been better is a more tapered relief, because at the moment smaller firms get 100 per cent off and slightly larger businesses get nothing.”

He continued: “The review announced by the Chancellor for later in the year to look at the complete business rates system is certainly needed.”

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said they were ‘working hard’ to get the business rate relief package announced in the Budget to local business as quickly as possible.

Cllr Tom Dawlings, Cabinet member for Finance and Governance in Tunbridge Wells, said: “It is encouraging that our request to widen the scope of the types of businesses that are eligible has been successful and now includes the leisure and hospitality sectors.”

Also cautiously welcoming the news, Nicolas Heslop, Council Leader in Tonbridge, said: “The independent leisure and hospitality sector is critical to the health of our local economy, so I welcome this initiative to help them through this difficult period.”

But Jenny Lewis, Chair of the Tonbridge Town Team which links businesses with local government and the community, sounded a note of caution.

“I’m glad to see the Government considers the risk of financial implications on small businesses,” she said.

She added: “But it remains to be seen whether the rates relief is sufficient to keep companies afloat, as it’s a developing situation.

“I would urge shoppers to continue to support our local stores as much as possible while following the containment recommendations, and to remain sensible in their response to the situation.”

For more on the budget see page 10-11

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