Editor: Since March 2020, the financial support offered to retail and leisure businesses by the government has been commendable. Only last week, the chancellor offered further grants on top of the monthly £3,000 grants offered back in November.
Yet, some businesses have fallen through the cracks of this support, while many others are still facing the reality of collapse once support schemes end. In a third lockdown and entering a new year, the government must review its support package.
A significant question remains: will the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors stretch beyond April?
In our view, the government needs to extend the holiday for at least six months.
Businesses cannot afford to wait until the budget at the beginning of March to know whether they will be paying rates again in April.
They will need to plan ahead. By stalling this announcement, the government is teeing businesses up for failure and granting uncertainty.
Another issue that needs to be addressed urgently is empty rates relief. Currently, landlords of retail and office properties benefit from an initial three months of empty rates relief (although, at present, it’s virtually impossible to find a new tenant in this timeframe!), after which time full rates are payable.
The government should consider extending the empty rates relief period by another three months.
Also, zoom out for a moment. Is the business rates framework itself even fit for purpose? The current system was crippling businesses long before Covid-19 and readers will be well-aware of calls for its reform. Surely now it’s time for long-overdue rates reform.
Key actions should be to abolish downward transition and reduce the UK’s extortionately high Uniform Business Rates from 50p to 35p.
The question is, will the government be able to financially support these changes?
Now is not the time for the government to ‘wait and see’. In doing so, it risks undoing the positive effects of 2020’s relief packages.
Martin Davenport, head of business rates, Hartnell Taylor Cook