A loophole that has left several firms ineligible for support risks permanently damaging a vital part of the region’s economy, warn business leaders.
They are calling on the Government to take urgent action to help the many companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic that are missing out on grants of £10,000 or £25,000 because they are based in shared workspace and therefore don’t pay business rates directly.
Currently, Government-funded support packages being distributed by councils are dependent on firms paying businesses rates directly, therefore those whose payments are included in their rent are not eligible.
Matt Griffith, director of policy at Business West says intervention is vital to ensure the current crisis doesn’t cause permanent damage to either the businesses affected or the workplaces that are vital to their growth.
He said: “We are collaborating with some of the largest incubator and workspaces in Bristol and Bath – such as Engine Shed and Pervasive Media Studios at the Watershed, as well as Tech Spark and creative and other small business clusters.
“These businesses and workspaces represent one of the greatest strengths of our city region – giving a home to many growing and diverse firms – but they are often falling through the gaps in current government support packages.
“It’s vital that this crisis doesn’t permanently damage either these businesses or the places where they are able to grow. That’s why we’re asking both central and local government to support these assets and businesspeople, so we still have them when we turn to the vital recovery phase of the post lockdown world.”
The collective of businesses and representatives have already raised their concerns with local authorities, including Bristol City Council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), but they need the Government to make the rules on allocation of funds more flexible.
The letter also raises concerns about companies in the leisure, hospitality or retail sector unable to apply for a ‘business rates holiday’ because their workspace is categorised as a warehouse or light industrial. Under this category, the landlord is ineligible and therefore cannot pass rate relief onto tenants.
Becca Luger runs Crumpet Cakes, a Bedminster-based business that predominantly relies on large events and festivals to sell produce. Her company is one of the many slipping through the net in terms of support.
“We’ve been really hard hit by coronavirus as all of our events have been cancelled for the next four months leaving us with no income, but we obviously still have to cover all of our ongoing business costs such as rent on our premises,” Becca tells Bristol24/7.
“A double blow came when we discovered that we wouldn’t be eligible for the small business grants of £10,000 through the business rates system because we rent space in a large mixed-use building where the rates are paid by the landlord.
“There are a huge number of businesses that have had to stop trading due to the coronavirus outbreak who are in a very similar situation to us and who won’t be eligible for the grants.”
Becca joined forces with Business West to lobby the Government for funding for small businesses, adding: “We want to be able to reach out and help as many small businesses as we can and their workspace providers, who aren’t eligible for the grants, so that they can be part of the campaign and sign the letter.
“Bristol has a dynamic and vibrant small business community which contributes hugely to the local economy and we need to do everything we can to save it and support it.”
The letter, that will be signed by businesses across the region before being sent to Westminster, states: “This is a crisis for our firms. Not addressing it risks sustained and permanent damage to a vital fabric of our regional economy upon which hundreds of jobs and will impair what should be a key part of our economic recovery and future economic success. We urge you to take action now to help.”
Businesses are invited to add their name to the letter calling for more support via: https://share.hsforms.com/1grKsoS3VSHqobzetQzYAyw2pgut
Main photo of Becca Luger, the owner of Crumpet Cakes, provided courtesy of Becca Luger