Council defends food scheme rates relief policy

Claire Dodd

Claire Dodd

23 August 2017

The council at the centre of criticism for requiring licensees to join a new healthier catering scheme as a condition for receiving additional business rates relief, has said the proposals are still under consideration.

The ALMR yesterday branded Barnet Borough Council as ‘unreasonable’ for the policy, which would require that venues be accredited under the Healthier Catering Commitment run by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, before receiving discretionary rates relief.

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

This is an unreasonable condition by the Council which runs counter to the spirit of the relief

Kate Nicholls

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

Following huge backlash to steep business rates increases, the government announced a new discretionary £300 million rate relief fund for council’s to allocate to businesses most affected by the 2017 revaluation. Barnet is to distribute £2.3m of relief over four years. This is in addition to the £1,000 business rate discount available to pubs with a rateable value up to £100,000.

'This is an unreasonable condition by the Council which runs counter to the spirit of the relief,' ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said.  'The discretionary fund was made available by the government in recognition that hardworking businesses are suffering from exorbitant rates increases and need assistance.

'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.'

Senan Sexton, licensee of The Bohemia in North Finchley has seen a £23,456 increase in his rates bill, before any relief. He 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 an automatic relief, is completely bizarre.'

However, a spokesperson for the council said: 'We are currently consulting on a new discretionary rate relief policy for businesses which includes a proposal requiring some businesses to have Healthier Catering Commitment accreditation to be eligible for rate relief.

'We have consulted with the GLA and The Federation of Small Businesses, and 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.'

 

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