Business West calls on government to act now and extend business rates relief for struggling firms

January 21, 2021

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been urged to extend business rates relief beyond its March 31 cut-off point to avoid further pressure on firms struggling from lockdown restrictions.

The call has come from Business West, the region’s largest business group and the organisation behind the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative.

Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors have been exempt from paying business rates in the current tax year.

But there has been no clear signal from the government whether it intends to extend the scheme beyond March 31.

And with many businesses currently looking at the next financial year – including whether to renew leases on their properties after March and April – it was vital action was taken now, Business West said.

Chancellor Sunak will present his Budget on March 3 – when he is due to announce which measures to help businesses trade through the coronavirus pandemic will be extended.

But with many firms enduring what it calls the debilitating squeeze of coronavirus restrictions, Business West believes the government must act now to avoid a repeat of last November’s furlough scheme U-turn and alleviate one of the biggest cost pressures facing businesses.

It says business rates relief is one of the less-costly options on the table, yet it could significantly help to protect lives and livelihoods as companies enter a second year of Covid-related restrictions.

Business West managing director Phil Smith, pictured, said the furlough scheme had demonstrated the importance of moving quickly to provide certainty for businesses and if the government had moved earlier last year to extend it, potentially thousands of job losses in the later summer and early autumn could have been prevented. 

“In the run-up to the Budget and financial year-end, government once again has a small window of opportunity to make a difference by acting swiftly and providing much needed certainty for businesses struggling with the pandemic,” he said.

“Whilst we understand the need to balance the books and appreciate the huge outlay by government since the pandemic began, extending business rates relief would be a cost-effective way of giving businesses some much needed breathing space.

“Businesses are currently looking at the next financial year – including whether to renew leases on their properties after March and April.

“Knowing about what happens to business rates now is a big material consideration in whether firms keep property and businesses going through 2021. Government getting ahead of the curve on this now will considerably increase the impact of a business rates relief extension.”

He said businesses could not afford to wait until the Budget in March. They needed the government to act decisively and bring forward any support measures it was considering now, so that businesses could plan for more than a few weeks ahead.

“The support schemes the government has introduced so far have saved many firms and jobs, but they have arguably not gone far enough to help many survive a tough start to 2021,” added Mr Smith.

“The drip-feed approach to business support measures has meant many firms simply cannot plan for the future.

“We are urging the government to extend business rates relief into the next tax year and urgently consider adopting a wider package of measures that covers the whole of 2021. This would take away the cliff-edges that firms face in a few weeks’ time when reliefs, forbearance and furlough are set to end. Action is needed now.”



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