Government steps in to end ‘war of words’

Mark Rigby, chief executive of CVS Business Rent and Rates Specialists.
Mark Rigby, chief executive of CVS Business Rent and Rates Specialists.

The Government has now stepped in to speed up the distribution of business rates relief to thousands of small firms promised in the Budget.

Nearly five months on since the start of the new tax regime in April, businesses across Northumberland are still waiting for their bills to be adjusted and for the £1.6million in promised relief to be distributed, according to CVS Business Rent & Rates Specialists.

To put the matter to bed, Local Government Minister, Marcus Jones, summoned the main providers of software for local authorities to Whitehall for a meeting last Tuesday to bring an end to a war of words.

A deadline of August 21 has now been agreed for the companies – Capita, Civica and Northgate – to provide local authorities, including Northumberland County Council, with updated software to help them issue new bills to their affected businesses.

Councils have previously stated that they weren’t able to send out revised bills immediately because they were waiting on the necessary published guidance from the Government and that with so many thousands of premises and property assessments to check, many councils opted for a software update so the process could be done automatically.

But the software providers have yet to deliver those updates, and the Department for Communities and Local Government has long insisted that the distribution of the £300million discretionary pot – of which businesses across Northumberland are benefitting from £1.6million-worth – is not affected by software updates.

Mark Rigby, chief executive of CVS, said: “It took a crescendo of outcry from small firms fearing for their livelihoods to get this relief and it’s been disheartening to watch those very firms fear for their survival amidst a war of words from councils. The Minister was right to intervene to bring certainty by imposing a deadline.

“I would now urge Northumberland County Council to expedite the distribution of this relief to local firms hardest hit by the revaluation.”

Business rates bills should be reisued to firms in Northumberland by Monday.