I don’t rate business rates

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a business in possession of a premises must be in want of customers and an extra few bills to pay.

Every property in the land pays rates of some description, which is fair enough because there are a lot of things to pay for! Except…we still have to pay for lots of other things that the average household gets included in their lot. I can’ t necessarily speak for industries other than my own with any authority…so I won’t. What I can say however is, bars are getting screwed.

The general position is that rates pay for, well everything, from teaching to waste management, but what precisely does it provide for me… Of late, there seems to be quite a furore in RoI about water charges…I pay them already. Every bar does, restaurants too. Businesses in general I believe. But I pay thousands each year to NI Water… If a pipe coming into a business is between 41mm & 50mm, i must pay £624 just for the privilege of wanting to have water readily available, and £1.02 per m3 of water actually supplied to me. So…I pay rates, and I pay for water…and water is an absolute necessity, both for food and for bar service, all those people who try to save a couple of quid, come out only for a special price bonus meal deal early bird type thing and order water…that water costs us, it ain’t free!

Waste. You normal folk who put your bin out each week, or each fortnight, or each month if you’re from banbridge, or each year if you’re from the not-too-distant future…you don’t know you’re born! For comparisons sake we shall use the council service pricing. When you put your bin out, it costs you nothing, well…nothing more than the council rates you pay…I pay business rates, but also pay for waste collection; your household wheelie bin is 240L, my bins are 1100L, these cost my £15.25 per collection per bin, I have 2 of these and they are collected 3 times per week for a cost of £91.50 each week, or just shy of £5000 a year. Plus Vat. Recycling too, for the same size bin it would cost me £8 (dry product, cardboard, plastic etc), £9 (660L bin – glass…and if you do the maths, this is more expensive than just binning it), £6 (240L – foodstuffs…which is a lot more expensive per L than general waste). I would also then have to have 5 bins, which I don’t have space for, and when I did use them to recycle, frequently a passerby would throw a sandwich wrapper from their lunch in with the glass and the bin would be wrapped in neon-bio-hazard CONTAMINATED alert signs. So I don’t recycle. The council are getting £5k from me each year for waste collection and I just can’t afford to spend even more to recycle.

So I pay rates, waste collection, water…oh, and I subsidise my competition. Part of what rates pay for are council run or planned arts and events. In the bar industry, we tend to know a bit about arts and events, we tend to be a hub for them…but the council sees fit to charge us to pay them to host events, some of them are of course beneficial to our businesses. Some events organised by the council, such as the Christmas market, have a bar. And if you’ve ever been to the Christmas market bars, there are a LOT of people in them, which are customers not in bars from the surrounding area that do pay rates, that support the local economy all year round. Admittedly the Christmas market does bring people into Belfast city centre, but with none of the overheads carried by the local businesses.

“But it’s ok because business rates aren’t that bad are they?” One business owner I know of that has a presence in both Belfast and Dublin, told me that per sq ft they pay 3 times more in Belfast than Dublin. So to compare 3 Belfast city centre bars, and these are all figures sourced from land and property services NI, freely available for all to check out.

The Spaniard -£6215 p/a
The Duke of York – £13831 p/a
Laverys – £85002 p/a

And with the current revaluation process for 2015 indicating the following increases

The Spaniard – +480.39%
The Duke of York – +550.60%
Laverys – +260.74%

What this tells me is that businesses that have been established for some time now and have been the lynchpin of regeneration in some areas, particularly the cathedral quarter, are now being financially penalised for the growth they have encouraged in their neighbourhoods. Thank you very much for making this area attractive to other businesses who will also pay rates, now if you could just accept this increase in rates, oh and pay for your water and your waste. And whilst you’re at it, whilst you may be looking at the accounts ledger and thinking “this could push me close to not breaking even” well then you won’t be able to reap the benefits of a cut in corporation tax, because you have to be profitable to get a tax cut. Now pay your business rates and keep quiet.

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.