Nailcote Hall owner Rick Cressman has told his local authority that he will not be paying "unfair" business rates this year and is prepared to be sued or go to prison.
Cressman, 69, has owned the Grade II-listed, 49-bedroom property in Berkswell, Warwickshire, for nearly 30 years. He said the government was moving too quickly on repayments even though his business has taken on around £750,000 in additional debt over the last year, been closed for the most part of 15 months, lost around £3m in business and is unlikely to return to normal trading until July after social distancing requirements are expected to be removed.
He said: "I've already written to my local authority about a month ago making it very, very clear that I'm quite prepared to say no to any bill they send me for business rates this year. If they want to sue me, they can. If they want to be seen to come over to Nailcote and send bailiffs in, they can try and do it, I think they'd look very silly.
"If they want to prosecute me, they can go ahead and do it. Sending a 70-year-old person [to prison] whose business has been going for 30 years and has sent the Treasury something like £20m in revenues, I think they'll be the ones who'll be looking very silly. This is about fairness."
He added: "The government said no to a minister for hospitality, said no to keeping VAT at 5% for the rest of this year and I just feel that the government's been saying a lot of ‘no' to us, and I think it's time for us to say ‘no' to them and be brave as an industry and stand up and say ‘no, I'm not paying this, it's not fair'."
Businesses in England will be expected to start paying two-thirds of their business rates bills from July, although the discount only applies up to a value of £2m, with a government review into the business rates system delayed until the autumn. Hospitality businesses in Wales and Scotland have been given a further year-long rates holiday and UKHospitality has said the sector in England should be exempt until at least October.
Cressman highlighted that two-thirds is "still a lot of money", which for him will amount to around £3,000 a month on top of £100,000 in deferred VAT and National Insurance that he will have to start paying just a matter of months after reopening.
He said: "Somehow the government thinks that we've got instant business that will produce the cash flow that can pay these things at the drop of a hat."
Hotels in England will be able to reopen from 17 May, however due to social distancing requirements Cressman said very few weddings have been booked at the hotel during May and June, when usually this makes up around half of its business during the summer. He expects turnover in May to be 20% of what it would normally be, rising to 50% in June.
"They want us to open up and start paying straight away. They're wanting too much too soon. What they should have done is scrap the business rates for this year and get something put in place that's fair that starts payments April 2022. We need a proper opportunity to get back on our feet, it's to the benefit of the whole economy if we're given a decent chance," said Cressman.
He added that the system of property rateable value-based business rates applied to country house hotels and high street restaurants and businesses was "grossly unfair" and "totally outdated" and would prevent him from employing the number of people he will need to staff a backlog of 130 weddings and steer the business into recovery to then be able to start repaying.
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