‘A chance to change things for the better’: calls for equestrian business to act on business rates *H&H Plus

  • Following news the government is committed to a “fundamental” review of rates, as outlined in the most recent Queen’s Speech, H&H has spoke to the British Horse Society, a riding school owner and the Treasury to find out what equestrian business need to do to help themselves...

    Equestrian businesses are urged to grasp the opportunity to act on business rates, as the government has pledged to review the system.

    The British Horse Society (BHS) has been lobbying the government, and is asking livery yards, riding schools and competition centres to contact their MPs, as the more people highlight the problems suffered, the more likely it is the situation will change.

    H&H has been reporting on the “disproportionate” rise in rateable values, which determine the amount paid, in the 2017 revaluations, and the BHS has long been campaigning on the issue.

    In the most recent Queen’s speech, the government committed to a “fundamental” review of rates. These include a proposal to increase rates relief from a third to 50% for shops and pubs with a rateable value of less than £51,000, to rejuvenate high streets.

    The BHS is calling for this relief also to apply to small equestrian businesses.

    “There’s a high number of equestrian centres that fall in this bracket so this proposal should apply to them too, and it would be a big saving,” BHS chief operating officer Sarah Phillips told H&H.

    The BHS has already written to every MP in England and Wales — the issue is devolved in Scotland — to alert them to the issue, and is encouraging them to visit equestrian centres in their constituencies and raise the subject in parliament.

    Ms Phillips said feedback has been positive, and some visits already arranged, but she is encouraging all equestrian centres to do the same. The BHS has created a template letter on its website, to which businesses can add their own personal problems and invite MPs to visit.

    “The hike in rates is very often the difference between staying open and closing,” she said. “The message that needs to go to MPs is the impact this has. We assume announcements will be made in the 11 March budget so it’s important to act now.

    “We have a new government that appears to be receptive — this could be a chance to change things for the better. It doesn’t take much to get the ball rolling, but if people don’t say anything because they think no one will listen, then no one can listen.”

    Lucy Thomson, of Lavant Equestrian riding school in Chichester, told H&H the issue is “ludicrous”.

    “My riding school is successful because I have a business background, but the main problem is riding schools don’t make an awful lot of profit, however well they’re run,” she said. “And the business rates don’t reflect the low margins.”

    Mrs Thomson said the rates are among the many financial burdens the sector has to face.

    “This winter’s a good example,” she said. “You probably need an indoor school to survive, which we have, but only if you can afford to put one up, and get the planning permission, and pay the business rates on it.

    “There are so many things weighted against riding schools, yet we meet all the government directives about getting outside, being active, improving mental health. If they want people to do these things, why don’t they help? I’m not talking about grants or anything, just to address the sector.

    “This is why riding schools are disappearing, because people can’t afford to run them.”

    A Treasury spokesman told H&H: “Since 2016 we’ve cut business rates across the board, with reforms that will reduce their cost by £13bn over the next five years. We’ll be conducting a fundamental review of business rates, and will release further details in due course.

    “The retail discount is designed to support our high streets and is targeted at small retail properties including shops, cafes and pubs.”

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