The call by CVS follows a letter from the chair of the London Councils group, councillor Claire Kober, in which she slams the Government for its criticism of local councils for apparent delays in distributing rate relief to pubs.
Under the rates relief rules pubs with a rateable value below £100,000 are eligible for a £1,000 rates discount, which was announced in the Budget in March.
Local authorities have faced strong criticism as many pubs are still waiting to receive their relief payment as the new business rate revaluation kicks in. In addition, councils in London were expecting "adequate" financial support from central Government to implement the changes required for the new rates system.
Writing to Local Government Minister Marcus Jones, Kober said: “From October 2016 onwards, when draft figures were published, London Councils repeatedly called for the Government to rethink its implementation of the 2017 business rates revaluation, which saw disproportionate increases for the capital’s businesses.
"Government had known since September of this disproportionate impact and only sought to address this at the 11th hour in the March Budget, by which time, many councils had already printed business rates bills for the year ahead.”
The 32 London councils plus the City of London are able to reclaim £124m of £300m discretionary relief under Government allocations for distribution to businesses facing huge hikes in rates. Westminster will enjoy the lion’s share of the relief across London, receiving almost £20m over four years.
The biggest delay to distributing the relief, according to Kober, is the need for councils to negotiate changes with software providers and the uncertainty over what the final costs will be.
"The lack of clarity from Government about the new 'burdens funding' has also hindered progress, as it was only at the end of June when it was announced that each billing authority would receive only £12,000 towards the additional costs: a figure that is unlikely to be adequate," she told Jones.
She added: “All London boroughs are working hard to finalise their schemes following this period of uncertainty. It is disappointing that, in response to the understandable concerns of London’s businesses, the Government has chosen to criticise local government rather than acknowledge the impediments facing councils in distributing business rates relief funding.”
CVS spokesman Paul Turner-Mitchell added: “It’s now turning into a war of words, whereas the reality is that businesses just need the money, don’t they?”
Although the proposed relief is welcomed by ratepayers, Kober said it was a quick fix that only treats the symptom of the fundamental issue, which is that London ratepayers shoulder a greater proportion of the business rates paid. She warned that on current trends, the capital’s taxpayers would be paying more than half the national tax by 2040. “Clearly this is not sustainable,” she said.
There is no clear indication of progress on urgently needed rates system reforms, and the Government must provide certainty to local government about the finance system beyond 2020, she said.
CVS chief executive Mark Rigby said the Government had asked all councils to provide updates on relief rates distribution by the end of June.
“In the spirit of openness and transparency, I would call upon the Government to immediately release those updates and tell small firms the latest date by which they will receive the help they so desperately need in order to bring an end to this uncertainty and confusion.”