Almost every council in England has failed to distribute their share of business rates discretionary relief to retailers hit by extortionate rates rises.
A Retail Express investigation has found that of more than 100 councils in England, only three had managed to hand out any of the funds to needy businesses. On a national level this means less than 1% of the £175m of discretionary relief for 2017 has been handed out despite the fund being announced in the Spring Budget in March and guidance issued the Government in May.
Councils blamed software providers and a lack of Government advice for the delays, yet only 10% had even managed to agree on a system of identifying which businesses should receive the funding.
Ealing Council told Retail Express: “Ideally we would have commenced the distribution of relief, but this has been delayed due to uncertainty from central Government.”
The Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) said council excuses are invalid, with a spokesperson commenting: “It is unacceptable that some councils are not acting quickly enough. They should take urgent action, including working with their software suppliers, so that they can deliver the much needed relief.”
The DCLG’s view is supported by councils that have distributed funds – Scilly, Southwark and Haringey. The latter’s cabinet member for economic development Joe Goldberg said: “We weren’t prepared to sit back and watch our borough’s businesses suffer as a result of the Government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ national revaluation.”
A majority of councils, including Doncaster, South Somerset and Horsham, expected the delay to continue until September, though others such as Charnwood expected it to take even longer.
Some councils like Canterbury and Birmingham have held off from billing those impacted until their discretionary relief scheme is in place.
Clare and Pete Hart own Chapmans of Southwold, and have seen their rates increase by 30%. They should qualify for discretionary relief, but Suffolk Coastal Council told Retail Express it would be September at the earliest before they receive it. When informed of the news, Pete Hart said: “I don’t know what they are playing at, they asked to see our books in order to help build the scheme six weeks ago. “It felt like an insult at the time, like they didn’t believe it when we said the increase is a struggle for small businesses like us.”
Responding to Retail Express’ investigation, FSB policy director Martin McTague stated: “These figures show the extent of the chaotic delay in the distribution of discretionary business rate relief.” He continued: “Communities Secretary Sajid Javid needs to take control of the situation and make sure local authorities get on with the job of allocating the relief with no further delay.”
CVS CEO Mark Rigby agreed, commenting: “The delays in devising local schemes and allocating the grants are totally unacceptable and unjustifiable causing panic, confusion and alarm for small firms.”