Give every business a three-month rates holiday, demands CBI

All companies should be given a three-month business rates holiday as part of almost £16 billion of potential new aid, according to the CBI.

The business lobby group has called on the government to extend business rates relief beyond the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors to every company in England, Scotland and Wales, mirroring the temporary blanket suspension of payments in Northern Ireland.

Grants to businesses should also be extended, it said. Making the grants administered by councils available to more small businesses and larger ones outside the crisis-hit retail, hospitality and leisure sectors would cost about £10 billion, the CBI has calculated.

Widening business rate holidays to sectors including manufacturing, transport and retail supply for three months would cost £5.5 billion. That would make the total cost £7.9 billion, including the help to retail, leisure and hospitality, which have been let off payments for this tax year.

The relief could be extended from three months to six if times become harder. Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “This is a race against time, and the only winning strategy is scale, speed and simplicity.”

The government should also consider raising its guarantee to 100 per cent for coronavirus loans for small companies, the CBI said. Last night the Financial Times reported that the chancellor is preparing to offer such guarantees on loans to Britain’s smallest businesses, after pressure from Tory MPs and the Bank of England.

Loans under £25,000 are the hardest for banks to approve because of the high costs involved relative to their size. Only RBS is offering loans starting at £5,000 while HSBC last week launched loans from £10,000.

The Treasury said it had taken unprecedented action. “More than 435,000 businesses have so far claimed £3.75 billion to pay the wages of furloughed staff, and half a million firms have benefited from £6 billion of business grants. We’ve also implemented generous VAT deferrals and scrapped businesses rates.”