We are writing as businesses, owners and managers based in many of Bristol, Bath and the West of England’s workspaces to raise our urgent concerns about our ability to access government support to help with the major shock of coronavirus on both ourselves and on the regional economy.
Bristol and Bath have seen a major growth in workspaces in recent years – from the high profile incubator and tech and creative hubs in central Bristol, but also in the lower cost workspaces across the whole of the city region.
They support hundreds of businesses, act as hubs for small and growing firms to access business space, underpin collaboration and innovation and many important business clusters, and drive jobs growth in many areas that are critical to our regional economy. They offer a good option for growing firms when formal business space is increasingly scarce and expensive.
Unfortunately, it also means that these firms fall through the gaps of the existing support packages the Government has announced around coronavirus. The reason for this is twofold:
- Firstly, businesses in workspaces don’t pay business rates directly: they pay it via their workspace provider. This means that these businesses are ineligible for the small grants of £10k and £25k, which are currently dependent on paying business rates in order to receive these grants.
- Secondly, the business rates holiday announced is only available to businesses classified as leisure, hospitality or retail in the business rates regime. So even if the workspace business is in these categories (for example we have many examples of retail, food businesses or market traders, but selling in non traditional retail outlets or online), because their workspace is categorised as a warehouse or light industrial – the landlord doesn’t get a business rate holiday, and therefore cannot pass it onto their tenants.
We believe, after discussions with some local authorities, that it may possible for councils to amend how they distribute the small business grants. However, at present local authorities would not be reimbursed by national government, as the allocation criteria would not match central government’s, and the funding is linked to the data of businesses based in councils’ and HMRC’s databases.
We are raising this with government, local authorities and with WECA, to ask for the flexibility to address this urgent need in the short term support for our businesses – and make our workspace businesses individually eligible for the £10,000 small business grant. We believe this can be achieved either via using flexibility in their funding from other central government or combined authority sources or asking central government to change the funding system to enable this to happen.
This is a crisis for our firms. Not addressing it risks sustained and permanent damage to a vital fabric of our regional economy upon which hundreds of jobs and will impair what should be a key part of our economic recovery and future economic success. We urge you to take action now to help.
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