Business bills and black-throated birds
Business bills and black-throated birds
13 JANUARY 2020 8:29 AM

The U.K. government must totally overhaul the newly re-elected business rates policy to help hotels, hospitality and High Streets blossom, and not continually cut expenses. North of London in Bedfordshire, a rare bird delights the obsessed, a zoo and local hoteliers.

The United Kingdom government has been working on a review of its business rates structure for some time now, and it promised in the run-up to the December General Election that it would continue to do so if returned to office.

The Conservative government was returned, and now is the time to do something about business rates.

Business rates are the single largest pressure on CEOs, if all the articles I read can be transferred across the whole playing field.

Not a hotel company, but footwear business Shoe Zone in its latest earnings results published last week saw CEO Anthony Smith declare “rates have risen to £11.1 million ($14.5 million) from £10.4 million ($13.6 million) in 2009, in spite of a 38% decrease in the number of stores, 30% decrease in profits and 47% drop in rents. Rates now account for 6% of revenues,” according to Investor Chronicle.

Hoteliers are facing the same pressures on metrics and, I would say, far more than proportion increases in business rates.

I have said before the trouble is that business rates are calculated on the value of the real estate, not the performance of the business, and naturally hotels will have grand buildings, public spaces, art areas and other showy baubles that take up space and do not necessarily mean revenue.

One of the big hotel conversations right now is how every centimeter of a hotel can contribute to the top and bottom lines, but there is a sensible limit on such squeezing, one those who calculate business rates do not contemplate.

It is easy to see guests checking in to rooms, dinner or the bar and think money grows on trees. Such thinking perhaps mirrors Members of Parliament looking out of their offices at Westminster, which are cramped, even shared, and see lines of tourists without end. What could possibly be the problem, they might ask themselves. It is boom time.

Smith said “current rates don’t reflect the market. All we want to see are rates which are aligned with the current rental property market,” according to This is Money.

UKHospitality has joined the call, with its 8 January news release, albeit one referring to rate increases in Wales, stating “many hospitality businesses continue to be strangled by extortionate rates bills, and High Streets have suffered as a result. … Hotels in particular continue to face the brunt of rates increases, and action needs to be taken to ensure they are not left behind. Hotels are fantastic employers … and spiraling rates bills only threaten jobs.”

Only three weeks before that date, UKHospitality saw fit to issue the same demands and warnings for all the U.K.

Businesses do not resent paying taxes, but only if they are consistent, fair, sensible and growth-promoting.

I personally do not see the current system as fit for purpose, and I think hoteliers should put all their weight behind supporting those who want to see commonsense policy put in place.

Black-throated thrush
Birding continually finds its way into this blog.

I have been a birder since I was nine, and at the end of the last year I became very excited—as did many others—when a Black-throated thrush (Turdus atrogularis), a species that should be in Russia, Iran and Mongolia, turned up with a flock of Redwing, a species that always turns up in the U.K. in winter, came to, ironically, Whipsnade Zoo just north of London.

It was the first example of that species that could be seen by many to visit the U.K. since 2006.

Some birders have come from so far away to add a rarity to their U.K. lists they had no choice but to book into a hotel, probably sleeping peacefully with the thrush in their dreams flying repeatedly over fences.

In winter, with the hours of light and the zoo-opening times both limited, birders have been tempted to remain in the area, especially if the bird was elusive or absent on any day.

Birding should be encouraged by hoteliers, is my usual plea.

What all the thrush fuss is about: a rare Black-throated thrush. (Photo: Terence Baker)

On 14 December three days after it was discovered, and one day after it was re-discovered, off I went to see it, too, paying approximately £21 ($27.43) to gain admittance to the zoo, where the bird thankfully remained, eating berries alongside a small-gauge train track.

At press time, it still is there (almost a calendar month now), and so far the zoo has said it has earned almost £60,000 ($78,385) from those saying they were there solely for the thrush, not for the wallabies and maras, which I learned while there is the world’s fourth-largest species of rodent. They were bouncing and roaming around out of the corners of my eyes as I stared at one small bird through my binoculars.

Birding boosts the bottom line.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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