Barnet Council criticised for rates relief consultation

By Georgina Townshend

- Last updated on GMT

Unreasonable condition: Barnet Council slammed for consultation on 'healthier catering commitment' accreditation
Unreasonable condition: Barnet Council slammed for consultation on 'healthier catering commitment' accreditation
Barnet Borough Council has been criticised for its consultation on a new policy that would require pubs to have a 'healthier catering commitment' accreditation to be eligible for discretionary business rate relief.

The Healthier Catering Commitment is a London-wide scheme that publicly recognises and rewards catering businesses that demonstrate a commitment to providing healthier food choices and healthier cooking techniques. 

The scheme aims to give residents more opportunities to choose healthier options when eating out and is supported by the NHS, Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

A spokesman for the council said: “We have consulted with the GLA and the Federation of Small Businesses, and a consultation with businesses is still open until the 11 September 2017.

"Feedback received during consultation will be taken into consideration before the final policy is implemented.”

At the Budget on 8 March, the Chancellor announced the Government would make available a discretionary fund of £300m to support those businesses most affected by the business-rates revaluation.

There is also a separate £1,000 business rate discount from the Government, which is available to pubs with a rateable value up to £100,000.

Barnet Council confirmed it has been funded £2.3m over four years to allocate to businesses most affected by the 2017 revaluation. 

Unreasonable condition

Commenting on the consultation, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), Kate Nicholls, said it would be an “unreasonable condition by the council which runs counter to the spirit of the relief”.

“The discretionary fund was made available by the Government in recognition that hardworking businesses are suffering from exorbitant rates increases and need assistance,” she said.

“The issue of rates has nothing to do whatsoever with healthy catering and Barnet Council has either fundamentally misunderstood the point of the relief, or is spuriously trying to increase burdens for businesses.”

No rhyme or reason

Senan Sexton, licensee of the Bohemia, North Finchley, is facing a £23,456 increase in his rates bill before any reliefs are applied.

On the accreditation, Sexton said: “The most frustrating thing is the obscure and seemingly indiscriminate and inconsistent nature of the system.

“There is no rhyme or reason to the way in which relief is distributed, or not distributed in this case.

“Making us sign up to a scheme that nobody has heard of, while other businesses get automatic relief, is completely bizarre.”

According to Sexton a similar pub, five minutes away in the neighbouring borough, is looking at a 42% cut in rates because its local authority has “got their act together and applied relief that has been promised to businesses”.

“Meanwhile, I am waiting for help that was promised in the Spring Budget and is still yet to materialise,” he continued.

“Clearly, there is no coherent system at local authority level in place for the distribution of relief to those businesses that need it most.”

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