Borough charities celebrate continued business rate relief

Stourbridge News: Celebrating: Lisa Byng of Mary Stevens Hospice and cllr Pete Lowe. Celebrating: Lisa Byng of Mary Stevens Hospice and cllr Pete Lowe.

CHARITIES across Dudley borough breathed a sigh of relief after council bosses announced they would continue to receive free business rates.

Dudley Council announced it would review its business rates concessions for charities and not-for-profit organisations in February, which left more than 300 organisations concerned about the financial consequences.

But while the council has agreed to cover the cost of £240,000 worth of business rates, it has amended its current policy and will now award entitlements one financial year at a time, rather than indefinitely.

The amendment has concerned Stourbridge MP Margot James, who said it would "increase the uncertainty for charities".

She said: “It is good news that Dudley Council has backed down on its proposed changes to business rates. Many charities rely on business rate relief, so the fact that it will be maintained at its current level means they can continue to use their resources where it makes the greatest impact.

"But I am concerned the change increases the uncertainty for charities. Dudley Council could review business rate relief again, and now has more flexibility to reduce it at shorter notice, which I’m sure has left many groups anxious about future costs.”

However, charities have welcomed the support for the forthcoming financial year, including Mary Stevens Hospice - as it will save them an estimated £20,000.

Stevan Jackson, the hospice's chief executive, said: "It is a tremendous relief to a charity of our relatively modest means who rely so heavily on the income from our charity shops that Dudley Council have made this most welcome decision.

"At a time when many charities are facing financial challenges this thoughtful decision lifts a huge weight from our minds and allows the money we would otherwise have spent on business rates to be channelled into providing the essential services of the hospice."

The news was also welcomed by Wordsley and District Community Association, which runs Wordsley Community Centre.

Chairman, Janet Blakeway, feared the organisation would no longer be financially viable if business rates were imposed.

She said: "We live in the real world and realise there are problems but we want to say a big thank you to Dudley Council, they have really listened to everything we have said. We will keep our fingers crossed that the same will happen next year."

Carole Scandrett-Price, chairman of Hawbush and District Community Association, which looks after the running of The Oakfield Centre, Brierley Hill, shared Mrs Blakeway's sentiment, she said: "We are glad Dudley Council has been able to continue the funding. We do appreciate that the council is having to make cuts and are grateful they are able to help us out at this moment in time."

A mandatory relief already covers 80 percent of the rates, which is funded half by the council and half by the Government.

The remaining 20 percent, known as top up relief, was the subject for debate as the council attempts to make savings.

Councillor Pete Lowe, cabinet member for finance and deputy leader, said: “Although we face very difficult financial times as a council we have taken the decision to maintain the existing criteria for charities across the borough.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to be a community council we recognise the importance of the charity and voluntary sector and want to ensure we support their fantastic fundraising efforts.”

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