A London borough council has been blasted for withholding business rates relief from pubs and restaurants that don’t meet certain catering criteria it has set out.
Barnet Borough Council is insisting that venues be accredited under the Healthier Catering Commitment run by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health before receiving discretionary rates relief.
The government announced earlier this year that it was setting aside a £300m “discretionary fund” for local authorities to assist local hospitality businesses with rates increases.
But in Barnet, eating and drinking out businesses have been told they must be accredited before they receive a portion of the discretionary fund.
The move has come under fire from ALMR chief executive, Kate Nicholls, who called it an “unreasonable condition” which runs counter to the spirit of the relief.
“The discretionary fund was made available by the government in recognition that hardworking businesses are suffering from exorbitant rates increases and need assistance,” she said. “The issue of rates has nothing to do whatsoever with healthy catering and Barnet Council has either fundamentally misunderstood the point of the relief, or is spuriously trying to increase burdens for businesses.”
Senan Sexton, licensee of The Bohemia in North Finchley is facing a £23,456 increase in his rates bill before any reliefs are applied.
He commented: “The most frustrating thing is the obscure and seemingly indiscriminate and inconsistent nature of the system. There is no rhyme or reason to the way in which relief is distributed, or not distributed in this case. Making us sign up to a scheme that nobody has heard of, while other businesses get an automatic relief, is completely bizarre.
“A similar pub, five minutes away in the neighbouring borough is looking at a 42% cut in their rates because, thankfully for them, their local authority has got their act together and applied relief that has been promised to businesses. Meanwhile, I am waiting for help that was promised in the Spring Budget and is still yet to materialise.”
Mr Sexton said it was clear that there was no “coherent system” at local authority level in place for the distribution of relief to those businesses that need it most.
Earlier this month, FEJ revealed how many pubs and restaurants had still not received millions of pounds worth of business rates relief after it was promised in the Spring Budget. Investigations into 25 local authorities revealed just three had developed a scheme to distribute the funds.