In the Spring Budget, we were pleased to learn that our Business Rates campaign had been noticed by the Chancellor.
Ahead of the Budget, FSB had lobbied parliamentarians and spoken regularly in the media about this year’s Business Rates revaluation and the very real concerns being voiced by small and micro businesses in London and beyond.
Hardly surprising that we were receiving a lot of calls from worried members, when every single London borough was facing increases in their Business Rates, some averaging as high as 46 per cent.
So the announcement that there was to be some help for small firms facing unacceptable increases in their Business Rates was broadly welcomed.
True, it wasn’t everything we had asked for on behalf of London’s army of small and micro business owners. Out of the £300 million national pot, London authorities were allocated £124 million, with £72.5 million being allocated for 2017-18, dropping to £35.2 million in 2018-19, £14.5 million in 2019-20 and a mere £2 million by 2020-21.
Given that three quarters (74 per cent) of London businesses who responded to an FSB survey said that ‘business rates’ was the single biggest issue affecting their business prior to the election, many would say that this is no more than a sticking plaster.
But it was something.
FSB recognises the huge pressures local councils are under and so we offered to work with all the London boroughs to help them develop the schemes to ensure those small businesses most in need were given relief as quickly and simply as possible.
But over four months down the line and to our knowledge, only eleven boroughs - Bexley, Barnet, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Harrow, Hounslow, Merton, Richmond and Kensington and Chelsea - have even published their proposed local relief scheme. More worryingly, it would seem that there are no boroughs which have actually applied any reductions to ratepayer bills.
Reasons for the delays in implementing these relief schemes have included the need to update software, seek approval from elected Members, consult with ratepayers and recalculate.
This is simply not good enough.
This shambolic delay means some small businesses are being left with no choice but to delay investment, avoid taking on staff or even close their doors, while they are waiting for this assistance.
The Government must get a grip on the situation and make sure local authorities start allocating the relief without any further delay.
Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, must provide a letter of direction to local councils in England to speed up the delivery of the promised help for small businesses.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London must put similar pressure on London Councils to get this funding out of the door as a top priority.
The money was promised. It is utterly unacceptable that hard-pressed small businesses have yet to see a penny back on their business rates bills.