UK English language providers, along with thousands of tourism businesses, are at risk of losing billions of pounds in income unless the government changes its Coronavirus Business Rates Relief Scheme, trade associations have warned.
English language school, travel operator and hospitality sector leaders have written to the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, asking for the relief scheme to be urgently changed for all businesses to be included.
“We believe many will cease trading without this support”
Several local authorities around the country have offered providers rate relief, leading to a “postcode lottery” on support.
But currently, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance means operators miss out on confirmed financial relief because they are not in premises where customers enter to make a purchase, they say.
Tour and coach operators, English language schools and tourism and hospitality charities are among those being excluded from the scheme.
“This distinction is both arbitrary and counters to the chancellor’s repeated statements that all businesses in the leisure sector are eligible for support,” states the letter to Sunak, signed by the Tourism Alliance, CPT, ETOA, UKInbound, Coach Tourism Association and English UK.
“Failing to support these businesses puts at risk many thousands of businesses that generate a large percentage of the £25 billion per annum that the UK earns from inbound tourism.”
In March, Sunak announced the scheme where all businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector would pay no business rates for 12 months, as well as getting cash grants if they had a rateable value of less than £51,000.
Interim chief executive of English UK, Jodie Gray, said that without government support, many businesses are under threat.
“The UK is a world leader in ELT, attracting 550,000 students every year, many of whom go on to study at our universities,” she explained.
“But most centres were hit early by Covid-19 travel restrictions, won’t be able to teach during the summer peak, and occupy large buildings incurring high office rates. We believe many will cease trading without this support.”
English language businesses had previously been eligible for business rates relief, but with the MHCLG pushback, schools are having to fight again to be included again, The PIE News understands.
Jane Dancaster, managing director of Wimbledon School of English, said the provider pays approximately £110,000 in rates for its two buildings per year.
“If we get this relief, it could mean the difference between staying opening and closing,” she told The PIE.
“So far there are 11 councils [we know] who have agreed [to grant rate relief] so actually it is not a level playing field. It’s turned into a postcode lottery, which is completely against anything that the government would have wished for. And it’s so wrong.
“Why is the government allowing this industry to be jeopardised?”
“Any relief put in place by the government for Covid-19 is supposed to apply across the board to everybody who is eligible. It shouldn’t be at the discretion of the local council. It shouldn’t be the local council to decide which schools go bankrupt and which survive,” she added.
The Greater London Authority has been “particularly unhelpful”, Dancaster said. “I don’t know why the GLA is pushing back, the ELT industry for London is just massive… Why is the government allowing this industry to be jeopardised?”
“The whole industry is in despair about this issue,” said Timothy Blake, chairman of The London School of English. “Most schools are in very serious difficulties and are having to cut expenses to the bone to have any hope of survival.”
Blake said he felt ELT businesses will be worse off than many others, because of the time it will take for customers to return.
“ELT schools will be much worse off: our customers are simply not in the country and will almost certainly take a long time to return.”
Most ELT schools don’t expect to see much real business for the rest of this year, he explained. “I doubt we will be back to full operation much before summer 2021. So our income will be weak for a long time to come, and we critically need all the support we can get.”
In Wales, local authorities have also been resisting offering ELT businesses relief. “I have done all the cost-cutting exercises I can do (except redundancies for now, as I would like to protect our valuable employees’ jobs as much as I can) and sought bank loans,” Shoko Doherty, CEO of Celtic English Academy revealed.
At fellow tourism body, British Educational Travel Association, executive director Emma English warned, “Without this support, these businesses will simply not survive, resulting in billions of future revenue being lost.”
“The furlough scheme has been of huge support, but many businesses now urgently need the rates relief support to weather the storm.”