This month, chancellor Rishi Sunak’s business rates holiday extension comes to an end, albeit with a partial continuation benefiting just small businesses. However, ‘Freedom Day’ has now been postponed, social distancing continues and some sectors are still unable to open.
Why, then, has the government not extended this rates holiday to reflect the current backdrop?
The hospitality, theatre and leisure sectors are in a particularly dire strait and, to my mind, business rates relief should be extended until at least mid-September to provide them with a vital lifeline. Many theatres, for example, have been running at a loss in recent weeks, as they expected to be at full capacity from 21 June. Without extra help, how will they cope?
Week after week we are informed of retailers forced to close their doors as a result of the reduced urban footfall. With many tourists blocked from entering the country, it is no surprise; yet businesses that rely on these customers are expected to run as normal and pay full rates bills from July.
Similarly, office occupiers remain unsupported, required to pay their full business rates despite the government telling us all to work from home for the past 15 months. Surely, some flexibility should be offered, such as paying rates based on occupancy? For example, swathes of US firms have left London, leaving a huge chunk of unoccupied stock; here, landlords should be granted some relief on rates until they find a new tenant.
When will the government begin to marry its economic support with the reality facing UK business? For many, the UK’s mass vaccination programme has afforded a much-needed light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for those in sectors reliant on footfall. Now, the government must mimic the strategic thinking it deployed to keep us safe through medicine to keep businesses safe through economic support.
Martin Davenport is partner, business rates and professional advisory at Hartnell Taylor Cook