Businesses have been left in limbo by the Valuation Office backlog on the last rates rise, so what hope do they have this time round, asks Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association
The chancellor did some headline-grabbing tinkering regarding the business rates valuation mess in the budget, but there was no mention of what we regard as the real scandal. We have discovered that, incredibly, there is still a backlog of 250,000 appeals left over from the last increase in 2010. And some from even from before that.
The Valuation Office itself confirmed this figure but, as reported by The Caterer, a spokesman added that the figures "clearly show how the appeals process is being clogged up by spurious claims". The spokesman added that over 70% of appeals led to no change to a business's rateable value.
Am I the only person to find this suggestion rather insulting? Because what the Valuation Office is saying, if you turn it the other way round, is that over 80,000 businesses in the UK are still waiting for an appeal process which they will win. And in the meantime, for the past seven years, these businesses have been paying too much as they await their verdict.
Spurious? I don't think so.
Now, not all of these businesses are part of our industry and we are in the process, through a Freedom of Information request, of finding the exact number of hospitality and tourism businesses affected. We reckon the number is in the tens of thousands.
Even before we get to this year's proposals, there is every likelihood that the numbers appealing against the 2010 increases will go up as the end of March deadline approaches.
By now, many of us know the figures involved this time round, with the average rateable value on hotels coming in at around 23%. This average means that some are a lot higher and some lower. Restaurants and pubs face massive increases too, notwithstanding the £1,000 a year rebate given to pubs in the budget, which works out at £20 a week.
We at the BHA understand the need for the government to obtain revenue, but to even think of clobbering businesses in this way is to not really understand how businesses work. And to leave 250,000 in limbo for seven years in some cases is extraordinary.
That is why we have called for a complete overhaul of the system and the appeals procedure, which cannot continue in its present form. The Valuations Office is being swamped and calling many claims spurious is no excuse.
In Scotland, in no small measure down to the fantastic work of the BHA Scotland executive Willie Macleod, the government has already announced a 12.5% cap until the results of a review are known. But Macleod has reminded fellow Scots that we do not know what relief will be on offer in the coming years.
It is clear that we all have to remain on our toes and not allow the government to stifle the continued success of hospitality and tourism throughout the UK. I would urge all owners to keep up the pressure on their MPs. They are closer to the ground and understand the importance of your businesses to the well-being of your local area. And they recognise that your vote is important to them, too.
The raw facts about burgers We may all baulk at yet another regulation, but the Food Standards Agency has just issued a new and important one in England, Wales and Northern Ireland concerning the cooking of rare burgers (different regulations apply in Scotland).
I have spoken at length to our food safety adviser, Dr Lisa Ackerley, who would have a degree in the subject if one were available, and she confirms that it is a complicated area. But she has helped us produce a very useful Q&A to guide us through it at:
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