Labour Council bosses have come under fire over plans to return millions of pounds to the Government that was supposed to be for Merton’s businesses.
Local authorities were given money to cover the Business Rates of premises in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Within the guidance they were allowed a discretion to support businesses that were similar to those specifically listed.
Lots of councils up and down the country are doing this. Merton however, is refusing to use this discretion and therefore denying support to businesses like Wimbledon’s three English Language Schools and large numbers of other other companies.
Wimbledon’s Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesman Cllr Paul Kohler said:
“Given that Merton still has money to support local businesses I am at a loss to understand why we have not adopted a similarly more expansive approach, particularly as the Government guidance explicitly states "[t]he list… is not intended to be exhaustive as it would be impossible to list the many and varied uses that exist within the qualifying purposes" and continues by saying "[a]uthorities 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."
“I am concerned that Merton is taking an overly legalistic approach that fails to recognise the flexibility that they have clearly been given. This is not in keeping with its claims to be a business-like and business-friendly Council. I understand that Merton is proposing to return undistributed funds to Central Government - over currently £3 million- which makes the failure to fully exploit the discretion they have even more perverse.
Businesses have cried out for help.
Jane Dancaster, Managing Director of the Wimbledon School of English said:
“Wimbledon School of English is a family company which has been in Wimbledon since 1964. We have dedicated years to developing a successful business that brings financial and other benefits to the community, and are proud to be ranked as the number one English language centre in the UK. Covid 19 has had a devastating effect on our business and we are asking the London Borough of Merton to use the Government aid at their disposal to help us survive”
Peter Allan, Managing Director of plusfour market research Ltd in Wimbledon said:
“Why would Merton Council ignore the plight of local businesses, instead choosing to return £3m to the Government? For probably less than 5% of that they could help all of the businesses they are currently rejecting. Why are they not recognising the scope that the Government has given them? Don’t they care about local businesses?”