Having just returned home from his local pond where he rescued drowning triplets and climbed a tree to bring down a kitten on his way home, the next (or is it current?) James Bond, 00 Sunak, received a phone call from the Surveyors Rating Association, asking him to intervene after talks on reassessing business rates bills for hundreds of thousands of companies affected by the pandemic broke down.
Having checked his diary to see when the meteorite the size of Venus is due to collide with Earth, Rishi noted that he has at least a fortnight and set his sights on the problem in hand.
Official figures show that 289,510 checks of business rates bills - the first stage in the appeal process - were registered between March and December last year, about 70 per cent of which refer to a "material change of circumstance". Speculation is rife that this number could rise as high as 500,000. The question (apparently) is whether a global pandemic, closing down much of the planet and rendering business limp and near useless, qualifies in that category. It is being claimed that this whole 'pandemic' lark may not be "material" enough, which begs the question of how many alien invasions and nuclear conflagrations does it take to change the minds of those who collect rates?
There were premature reports in late December that a deal had been agreed. However, the valuation office broke off the talks last month. John Webber, head of business rates at Colliers and part of the rating surveyors team negotiating with the valuation office and who is known for spontaneous outrage, said: “It is outrageous that whilst jobs are being lost by the hour, the Chancellor effectively called a halt to discussions.”
The Treasury were approached for comment. Were appeals which may result in not paying rates due to a "material change in circumstances" likely to be recognised? Will Rishi do the right thing and allow folk off the hook?
Tune in next time for an update.