Council considers axing rate relief for community groups

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BUSINESS rates could be imposed on dozens of buildings operated by community groups from April as a Yorkshire council struggles to balance its finances, it has emerged.

Barnsley Council has confirmed it has started consultations with 62 groups which are currently given rate relief on the buildings they operate. That could result in groups having to find business rates on top of raising the costs of running the buildings.

Barnsley Council has declined to say how much the authority would gain if rates were imposed across the board but they say their finances are being hit by national changes which will localise the way business rates are distributed. That move is generally regarded as disadvantaging less prosperous areas. At least one voluntary group is already warning that the cost of business rates would make it unviable to continue running their centre.

The plan has also been criticised as “a contradiction” by Coun Phil Birkinshaw, of the opposititon Barnsley Independent Group, at a time when the coalition Government was advocating the “big society” approach and Barnsley Council itself was warning that communities would have to provide more for themselves.

“There are difficult decisions to be made, but I think this is not appropriate,” he said. “We need to be encouraging, not discouraging, voluntary groups and imposing financial hardship by charging rates is not the way to go.”

Frances Foster, the council’s acting Executive Director for finance and property, said that the review did not necessarily mean that rate relief for the 62 affected groups will cease after April 2013 “because cases will continue to considered on an individual basis”.

She stressed the council was seeking views and that “no decision has been made as to what the outcome, or what any potential savings, will be”.