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Eric Pickles forces Government to tell pubs about business rate cut entitlement

Eric_picklesEric Pickles, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (at the time of writing!) appears to have scored another success.

Last November he claimed that the Government was hiding from pubs the fact that they could be entitled to a cut in business rates due to the smoking ban. The story appeared in the Telegraph on 9 November:

"Publicans who applied for a reduction in the rateable value of their premises after the ban was introduced in 2007 were turned down on the grounds there had been no material change in the way the pub was used.

But the Valuation Office Agency has received legal advice saying that decision was wrong.

New guidance states valuers should take the loss of the right for customers to smoke into account when assessing the rateable value of a pub, which could save landlords thousands of pounds a year.

The Conservatives have accused the Government of failing to notify publicans about the new guidance.

Shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles said that a £5,000 reduction in the rateable value of their business could save publicans £2,200 a year, at a time when the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that pubs are closing at the rate of 27 a week."

Mr Pickles had uncovered the story through a written parliamentary question:

"Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will place in the Library a copy of the Valuation Office Agency’s non-domestic rating guidance, RAT IA, as amended to include advice on the smoking ban. [230305]

Mr. Timms: A copy of the Valuation Office Agency’s Rating Instruction and Advice reference 260106, which was updated to include advice on the Smoking Ban in June 2008, has been placed in the Library."

The document is available here.

Mr Pickles has recently been informed, through another written answer, that the Government has written to write to trade associations to inform them of the reduction:

"Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to the answer of 28 October 2008, Official Report, columns 887-88W, on non-domestic rates: valuation, what steps (a) her Department and (b) the Valuation Office Agency has taken to raise awareness amongst the licensees of licensed premises of the change of policy on material changes of circumstances arising from the prohibition of smoking on licensed premises. [245965]

John Healey: On 11 November 2008 I personally wrote to the main trade associations representing public house operators and occupiers to help ensure that their members are clear about the change in approach to the rating assessments for pubs following the introduction of the smoking ban."

So the Government acted two days after the Conservatives lined up a news story drawing attention to their ineptitude (although the minister should have written to all landlords, not just trade associations). Once again Mr Pickles, who has absolutely first class research support at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, has proved himself to be an outstanding operative.


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