Business rates, How do I get help? One family business tells its story

Bedingfield Arms owner Catkin Parker. Picture: Ian Burt

Bedingfield Arms owner Catkin Parker. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

When Catherine Parker took over the Bedingfield Arms in Oxborough she was more than prepared for a bumpy ride.

Bedingfield Arms, Oxborough. Picture: Ian Burt

Bedingfield Arms, Oxborough. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

But both herself, and her husband Stephen, were left dumbfounded when they discovered that their business rates would double in their first year.

Oxburgh Hall, Oxborough. Picture: Ian Burt

Oxburgh Hall, Oxborough. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The unexpected rise saw their bill soar from £12,500 to £25,000 a year, sparked by a change in the rateable value when the business started doing well.

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And it did not come at an easy time either. The couple were already bearing the brunt of a costly refurbishment.

Like many landlords, Mrs Parker has grand plans for her business which are already bearing fruit.

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But she feels angered by the high taxation on her firm, which is actively helping the local economy.

Since taking over the pub near Downham Market, she has supported 18 jobs in a village which has lost its shop, post office and local school, despite more than 70,000 people flocking to nearby Oxburgh Hall each year.

Mrs Parker feels that a fairer way to tax businesses would be to link job creation to business rate relief.

She believes this would provide a better deal to small rural firms that play a vital part in their micro economies – and she plans to write to the Minister of Policy Oliver Letwin MP to express her views.

'We bought the Bedingfield Arms in November 2011,' she said. 'It had been boarded up for a year, and in the last nine years it has had six separate owners. So obviously not an easy venture, but we thought we would give it a go. Our friends said that we should be prepared to buckle up for the ride – and how right they were.

'However, the adventure of taking on the Bedingfield Arms – primarily to relieve me of cooking shoot lunches on our small family farm – has been very fulfilling and not something we regret.

'I simply love the community involvement that has inevitably drawn me in.

'Before, I was rather isolated on our farm at Foulden. Our three sons – now 22, 20 and 18 – had also reached the age to branch out. So the pub seemed like an excellent alternative and a way to include our sons in this austere time when jobs are far and few between.

'It has become very much a family enterprise, with our son Felix running his own shoe and boot company Fairfax and Favor.

'But having our business rate doubled from £12,500 to £25,000 in the first year, with no chance to step it up gradually, is hard to take.

'Hence my wish to contact Oliver Letwin and others in the coalition government to ask them to consider linking job creation with business rate credit. This would ease the burden considerably on entrepreneurial small rural businesses.

'In our particular case, we have created 18 full time and part-time jobs in a very rural area in West Norfolk, where, over the years, the village has lost its shop, post office and school.

'There is thankfully one bus stop, a village hall and a now resuscitated vibrant community hub of the pub that complement perfectly the National Trust property across the road, which is an absolute lifeline to all in this remote part of East Anglia.'

Although Mrs Parker has become frustrated by her situation, she does appreciate that the government is trying to help.

Currently, businesses in remote locations can access a rural rate relief to help them cope with the financial strain of business levies.

The relief is open to rural areas with a population below 3,000, with the potential of getting between 50pc to 100pc off their rates.

But firms are only eligible for help if it is a village shop or post office with a ratable value of up to £8,500, or a public house or petrol station with a rateable value of up to £12,500.

Meanwhile, local councils can give relief to other rural retail businesses of up to 100pc for properties with a rateable value under £16,500.

While this is helpful for some business, Mrs Parker feels any quick rise in rates will have negative impact on a firm's growth – with her businesses as a case in point.

She said they had to claw back some of their investment plans in order to meet the business rate increase set by Breckland Council.

'It added to the mega costs incurred at the beginning of a venture,' she said.

'Especially in this instance, where we are still having to recover from the large amount of capital needed to refurbish the run down and boarded up pub/coaching inn, before we could even attempt to make a return on this crucial part of the investment.'

But despite her business rates headache, Mrs Parker is forecasting a bright future for the Bedingfield Arms.

The pub-cum-inn has already received numerous positive comments on destination review website TripAdvisor, while their two other businesses – the Foulden Latimer Estate and the bespoke fire place design company After the Antique – are working with it to improve sales.

'We are in a fortunate situation to be able to link in our other business interests so they complement each other,' she said.

'But as well as pubs, we realise that farms also need to diversify and hence After the Antique operates alongside Foulden Latimer Estate, sharing an office in the farmyard.'

• For more information about business rates, or to check the value of your property, visit the Valuation Office Agency website here

• Do you have a business problem that you want us to spotlight? Contact business writer Ben Woods at ben.woods@archant.co.uk or call 01603 772426

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