£250,000-plus to help Gloucestershire businesses with rate relief
By Andrew Merrell | 1st June 2018
More than a quarter of a million pounds has been freed up to help county businesses with rate relief thanks to a campaign by Punchline-Gloucester.com.
Businesses are now being urged to claim their share of the money, made available after Punchline-Gloucester.com challenged local authorities to clarify the rules over expenditure with central Government.
Gloucester, Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean had effectively returned the money - which totals £256,000 - to Government, but now confirm they can still give it away.
Punchline-Gloucester.com believes even companies which have received rate relief for 2017/2018 should approach the council again.
But businesses must get in quick - the money will cease to be available from September 30.
Jon Leamon, deputy chief executive of Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce, said: "Thank you to Punchline for looking into this. You have educated the councils and you have established a good rapport between the councils and the chamber.
"We are pleased also because businesses of all sizes struggling with business rates in the county need help through difficult times and that is what we as a chamber are here to support."
Jane Gilpin, head of revenues and benefits at Cheltenham Borough Council, said: "We have previously been advised that unallocated funds cannot be rolled over into the next financial year, and must be returned to MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government), they are now saying that we can in fact spend them up to September 30, 2018.
"If there are any businesses that qualify back in to 2017/18 we will grant it anyway up to 30 September 2018 and we will now have the unspent £34k to use."
Gloucester has £99,652 to spend by September 30, Tewkesbury £105,359, and the Forest of Dean £15,000. (Stroud and Cotswolds District Councils understood instructions from MHCLG correctly and handed out all of their funding).
Mark Owen (pictured right), editor of Punchline-Gloucester.com, said: "It was Gloucestershire businessman Ian Sloan, who first flagged up the unspent money to us, and Retail Express which carried out hundreds of freedom of information requests to establish £7.5 million was still unspent nationwide.
"We then starting asking local authorities about the cash. They were adamant the deadline had passed for spending it and had 'sent it back' to Government, but we convinced them to look again.
"Instructions to councils sounded like they were confusing."
Mr Owen added: "This is fantastic news for everyone. The Punchline team were like a dog with a bone with this and now the business community needs to come forward and benefit."
Andrew Merrell, a senior reporter at Punchline-Gloucester.com, said: "Massive credit to Ian Sloan for flagging this up.
"We were determined to work with everyone on this, councils included and it took a lot of questioning.
"We also wanted to show the business community business journalism is alive and well and can be used to their advantage. It's up to them now to ."
Kevan Blackadder, director of Cheltenham Business Improvement District (BID) said: "If it is the case that all those who were entitled to the refund in Cheltenham received it, then the £34,000 that was outstanding could have made a real difference to other businesses who were potentially struggling.
"Well done to Punchline for bringing this issue to everyone's attention."
Sam Holliday, a spokesman for the FSB in Gloucestershire, said: "This is fantastic work by the Punchline team, Ian Sloan and Retail Express and if it helps to open the door for a number of local small businesses throughout Gloucestershire to get much-needed relief that can only be good news for them and for the local economy. An excellent result all round."
Tewkesbury Borough Council: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01684 272034.
Forest of Dean District Council: email@example.com or call 01594 812532.
Gloucester City Council: Call 01452 396478.
Cheltenham Borough Council: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01242 264255.
Punchline says: That there is £7.5 million nationwide unspent as a result of similar misunderstandings suggests at the very least the messages from central Government on how to allocate this money were confusing, so we have sympathy with local authorities in that respect. But if we can check it out and get confirmation from on-high then you might have thought they could have done so too. Now it is up to businesses to step forward and demand their share.
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