Event and catering businesses ‘falling between the cracks'

04 May 2020 by
Event and catering businesses ‘falling between the cracks'

Many event and catering businesses are "falling between the cracks", outside the scope of government support schemes.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, on 17 March, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a 12-month business rates holiday for all hospitality businesses, irrespective of their rateable value; while businesses with a rateable value of up to £51,000 can access the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF).

However, several event caterers have found themselves ineligible for both schemes as they are not classified as ‘hospitality'.

Timothy Brennan, owner of Caper & Berry catering, operates from a farm outside of Guildford with warehouse kitchens, offices and tasting rooms.

The business just missed the cut-off point for a small business grant and Guildford Borough Council has told him his business qualifies for neither business rates relief nor the RHLGF.

"I hope this is a rushed-out policy to try and help businesses, and our industry has fallen between the cracks," he said.

"Whether that's deliberate or is just an oversight remains to be seen. But businesses like ours will be making decisions about peoples' futures over the next few weeks, and without that funding basically more people get made redundant, which is exactly what they were trying to avoid."

Local authority guidance says business rates relief applies to buildings that are being used wholly or mainly as restaurants, cafés and drinking establishments, providing the sale of food and/or drink to visiting members of the public, such as restaurants, takeaways, sandwich shops, coffee shops, pubs and bars.

While the guidance specifies it is "not intended to be exhaustive", local authorities are interpreting this to mean properties should be accessible to visiting members of the public and therefore catering and events companies that do not host events at their own premises will not qualify for any help through the business rates or the grants scheme.

Ian Williams, co-founder of catering and events business Jacaranda, said he is "getting nowhere" with Chichester District Council for his applications for the small business grant and RHLGF.

He said: "The most recent communication I've had from the district council is on the rates bills for those two properties, which we can't get a grant for."

He added: "If we need to keep paying rent, we need income from somewhere."

Mike Pope, managing director of Place Settings, an event hire company, is in a similar position even though he says the wedding industry has "totally shut down" and there is likely to be "no season this year".

He said: "All we are after is fairness and parity of treatment with the rest of the hospitality sector", as he pointed out the events industry, like the rest of hospitality, "currently has no work at all".

Plans for a £617m discretionary fund for local authorities to support small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme were announced by the government over the weekend, however industry bodies has said the plans "do not go far enough".

Photo: Shutterstock

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