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Gloucestershire Business News

£220,000-plus of rate relief for Gloucestershire businesses lost

Nearly a quarter of a million pounds freed up for county businesses earlier this year following a Punchline campaign has been lost.

Back in May county businessman and business rates campaigner Ian Sloan flagged up the unspent money to us, and we worked with local authorities to help them realise the money could still be distributed.

Gloucester, Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean had effectively returned the money - which totaled £256,000 - to Government, but realising their error confirmed they still had until the end of September to allocate the money.

However, it now appears a substantial amount of those funds still failed to find their way to businesses and the remaining cash - a bumper delivery courtesy of the Chancellor in recognition of the pressure bought on businesses by their rates - is now no more.

Again, the digging was done by none other than Mr Sloan.

"We are so sad and frustrated that most local councils didn't take note of our report of December 2017, which first highlighted this issue and then the publicity created by The Punchline story in May, because councils had until September 30, 2018, to correct/re-write their own criteria to insure the funds where spent locally," said Mr Sloan, of Bankier Sloan chartered surveyors, which has an office in Moreton-in-Marsh.

"Cotswolds and Stroud took note of the publicity and re-wrote their criteria, but sadly the other Gloucestershire councils failed to react and in the cases of Tewkesbury and Gloucester city the amount of under-allocation surely deserved an investigation.

"We are sure local businesses in these two locations will feel very concerned. Many local councils misunderstood the 'guidelines' set out by central government and created their own local criteria which were from day-one going to make it impossible for the total funds to be allocated."

The scheme has now closed for the 2017/18 financial year and no further funds can be allocated.

Since Mr Sloan's comment above it has emerged that Cheltenham was able to distribute most of the £34,542 is had remaining as of May, joining Stroud and the Cotswolds with near maximum brownie points for delivery.

But that still leaves some £220,000-plus unspent.

Cheltenham

Total given to council by Government £270,759. In May the money not allocated and earmarked for return to central government was £34,542 (12.7 per cent). Since then the local authority was able to allocate all but £500.

Gloucester City

Total given to council by Government £201,318. Money not allocated and returned to central government £99,652 or 49.49 per cent.

Tewkesbury

Total given to council by Government £191,375. Money not allocated and returned to central government £105,734 or 55.25 per cent.

Forest of Dean

Total given to council by Government £168,518. Money not allocated and returned to central government £14,474 or 8.5 per cent.

Stroud

Total given to council by Government £252,314. Money not allocated and returned to central government £1,266 or 0.5 per cent.

Cotswold

Total given to council by Government £367,692. Money not allocated and returned to central government just £1,716 or 0.46 per cent.

Hannah Norman, cabinet member for performance and resources, Gloucester City Council, said: "Gloucester City Council proactively identified and contacted local businesses which may have been eligible to claim discretionary rate relief, sending each eligible business the application form required.

"Those businesses who returned the form and met the eligibility criteria were duly granted appropriate relief. The city council then telephoned businesses who did not return an application to offer them assistance in making a claim. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, some businesses chose not to apply. The council actively encouraged eligible businesses to apply."

Graeme Simpson, head of corporate services at Tewkesbury, said: "Tewkesbury Borough Council has spent £85,641 of the £191,000 allocated.

"In line with the guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), we believed any unspent allocation as at 31 March 2018 needed to be returned to MHCLG. However, in July 2018, MHCLG clarified that we could spend the remaining funds, provided they were allocated to eligible businesses.

"We reviewed the rating list again as we were very keen to use this funding to support local businesses. However, we appear to have exhausted the number of eligible business in our borough who were adversely impacted by revaluation 2017 who are not government organisations, in occupation of more than one property, or in receipt of other reliefs (including mandatory relief, community amateur sports club relief, discretionary relief, small business rate relief, rural rate relief or discretionary rural rate relief)."

When Punchline first convinced local authorities the dates they were working to were wrong they invited businesses to contact them to apply for the unallocated funds.

Councils blamed confusing instructions from the Government department which allocated the funds to start with - the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government).

Chancellor Philip Hammond put aside the £1.6 billion of funding for Britain's High Streets, of which there was £900 million to help shops with business rates.

It was estimated this would help some 500,000 shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, cut their rates bills by up to a third this year and next.

Nationwide some £7.5 million was unspent by local Government.

Gloucester, Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean local authorities have all been approached by Punchline for a comment.

Read more: Investigation: Millions of pounds for business rate relief unspent or out of reach

Read more: £250,000-plus to help Gloucestershire businesses with rate relief  

Ian Sloan works for Bankier Sloan .

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