Liverpool entrepreneurs urge MPs to back the #RaiseTheBar campaign as more than 50,000 businesses face collapse with quarterly rents due on June 24. Tony McDonough reports
High streets in Liverpool and across the UK are facing market collapse in just eight weeks without urgent Government aid, a campaign group is warning.
The #RaiseTheBar campaign, which highlights the plight of retailers, cafes and restaurants not covered by the Government’s coronavirus support schemes, estimates almost £1.4bn of extra support is needed to prevent more than 54,000 businesses going to the wall.
In eight weeks, on June 24, high street businesses will be due to pay their quarterly rents and #RaiseTheBar says many simply do not have the cash. It is urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to allow more businesses to access the £25,000 COVID grants, which do not cover those with a rateable value of more than £51,000.
The campaign says the ‘discretionary fund’ to local authorities falls short by £748m. This week, Liverpool City Council chief executive, Tony Reeves, said: “We have legions of small businesses that have driven our economy over the past few years… we need step up and provide some kind of release for those businesses.
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company, which represents 1,500 local businesses, and chair of the BID Foundation, said: “We cannot underestimate the importance of our retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and not just to what they bring to our economy but the people that are employed within them.
“That is why BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) across the UK are supporting the #RaiseTheBar campaign in asking government to increase the retail, hospitality and leisure rateable value threshold from £51,000 to £150,000
“ In doing so, more businesses will have access to a £25,000 grant supporting their fight to survive and to allow them to play their central role in kick-starting our economy.”
“We are now asking business owners, employees and customers to support the campaign, sign the petition and write to your MP about it. It is important that we look after for each other during these unprecedented times, so we come back to vibrant city centres.”
So far, 86 MPs have signed a letter to the Chancellor calling for the rateable value threshold to be increased for the coronavirus grants. Natalie Heywood, owner of Liverpool cafe and tea shop chain, Leaf Group, added: “Unfortunately three of our six sites have not qualified for grant relief.
“These sites carry the biggest costs and rents, which are still payable, and these are the venues that needed them the most. For one site we are in the process of finalising a challenge of a rateable value, meaning it would have fallen under the £51,000 threshold but the council are not obliged to retrospectively pay this grant.
“It makes no sense that support has not been equal especially as we have contributed more to the business rates pot than others. I feel like we have been penalised for having prime locations and successful units. It’s a dire situation.”
And one of Liverpool’s best-known restaurateurs, Art School owner Paul Askew, also said: “The Art School Restaurant is my life’s work. I started in the industry washing pans at 15 years old, travelled the world to learn my trade and 40 years later, created my dream.
“With 35 staff all furloughed, I am the one they look to, the one they ask, ‘will we survive?’ Yes, we can borrow but with new restrictions, we are concerned that the business will not be able to service the debt and therefore be in a far worse position.
“The increasing of the threshold would be an absolute god-send not just for us but independent operators across the country. We know we must adapt and even create a new business model but we need assistance today to help us support tomorrow.”