Dear Stephen Hammond and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government,
Firstly, Stephen Hammond, thank you for bringing to the House of Common’s attention once again the plight that many of us in the events industry are facing when trying to access the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme:
I pick up the events industry in my constituency, with White Light and Oxygen Event Services being two companies that may not be able to reappear in the way they were before this pandemic hit the country, and that would have a huge impact on the concert, festivals and hospitality industry. May we have a bit of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance to councils, that industry and also language schools, which are huge providers to local economies, particularly in Wimbledon? I have seven language schools that provide consumer expenditure into the local economy from the students, jobs for teachers and support for local families who house these students. Again, a postcode lottery has developed: in some places these businesses and schools are getting help and in others they are not. Again, if the MHCLG could be more prescriptive about exactly what should be allowed to be available for business rate relief, that will help.Stephen Hammond – Covid-19: Support for UK Industries Debate – 25th June 2020
To all relevant ministers and personnel within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, we would like to add further detail to the above and ask of you to take immediate action to rectify the postcode lottery the events industry is facing when trying to access the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme.
Soon after the inception of the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme, the Chancellor was specifically asked within the House by Greg Smith if Event Hire companies would fall into the envelope of support:
I warmly welcome the enormous package of measures outlined by the Chancellor. This morning, I spoke to Energy Generator Hire in Kimble Wick in my constituency, which has lost most of its order book and is uncertain about the future. Can he confirm whether event hire companies are included in the envelope of leisure and hospitality?Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con):
Those that have business properties will be eligible both for the relief and the grant, which will cover a significant number of events companies that have premises. Obviously, if they do not have premises, they will not qualify for business rates relief, but should be eligible for some of the other measures that I have outlined today.”Rishi Sunak: 17 March 2020 House of Commons – Economic Update
Oxygen Event Services Ltd is a small event hire business with two premises, each with a rateable value of less than £51,000. Based on the Chancellor’s unequivocal response, both properties should have been awarded the £25,000 grant and both should have benefited from business rate relief. However, to date, we have yet to receive any support from the London Borough of Merton. Merton’s refusal to provide the grant and rate relief is based on early written guidance that does not categorically state event hire companies. However, subsequent guidance released to local authorities from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Expanded Retail Discount 2020/21: Coronavirus Response – Local Authority Guidance – Point 15) states:
The list set out above is not intended to be exhaustive as it would be impossible to list the many and varied uses that exist within the qualifying purposes. There will also be mixed uses. However, it is intended to be a guide for authorities as to the types of uses that the Government considers for this purpose to be eligible for relief. Authorities should determine for themselves whether particular properties not listed are broadly similar in nature to those above and, if so, to consider them eligible for the relief.Expanded Retail Discount 2020/21: Coronavirus Response – Local Authority Guidance – Point 15
We are aware of numerous local authorities who have understood that it would be impossible for the Government to state every type of industry within the UK. They have correctly recognised that event hire companies are broadly similar to the list stated by central government (i.e specialist tool hire companies for the events industry) and that we are a key component in the hospitality sector. Equally, they have recognised that event hire companies rely on events of 50+ more people being able to come together, and therefore are severely affected by the necessary lockdown measures and are therefore unlikely to trade again this year. Local Authorities such as Croydon, Watford, Cheshire East, Sheffield, North Warwickshire, NE Lincolnshire, Gateshead, to name a few, have all awarded our competitors the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme. Merton continues to leave Oxygen at a competitive disadvantage, leaving us to face ongoing high fixed costs, all because they refuse to enact point 15 of the supplied guidance and consider companies that are broadly similar.
To add further insult we have discovered that Merton is now proposing to send back £3 million of the supplied funding for the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme.
In order to save lives, with a heavy heart, the Government has forced the hospitality sector to cease trading. In return, it has taken unprecedented steps to provide vast measures of financial support in the form of the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme – in order to provide the cashflow support to enable hugely affected companies to recover once permitted to do so. The Government has entrusted local authorities to provide this support using funding from central government. Local authorities, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure they exhaust their efforts in ensuring every effected company receives this support. By considering sending back £3 million of the supplied funding when there are so many companies like Oxygen in Merton, this local authority is failing its responsibility to save its local economy.
We ask you to write to The Chief Executive of Merton Council, Ged Curran, to remind the council of their economic responsibility in this crisis, and to instruct the council to approve our application for the Retail & Hospitality Grant and Rate Relief Scheme. We also ask you to provide further written guidance to all local authorities that event hire companies (in line with Rishi Sunak’s unequivocal response) are eligible for support, in order for all event hire companies to have a fair chance of recovering and not having to rely on a postcode lottery.
Our competitors are being given the financial lifeline to cover high fixed costs and to invest in diversifying their services so they can return to trading as soon as possible. We are asking for fairness.