Rates relief for port tenants

Dozens of businesses based in the region's ports have welcomed the confirmation they can waive and reclaim backdated rates after a lengthy political campaign ended in their favour this week.

Until 2008, around 700 firms across the 55 statutory ports in England and Wales understood they were not individually liable for businesses rates, as they believed that there was a combined bill that was paid by each port operator, their landlords, on behalf of all the firms within it.

Following a review the Valuation Office Agency decided that each firm must pay an individual business rate bill, declaring them all 'separate occupations'. The Agency retrospectively backdated the rating list, which led to new tax bills for local firms to 2005, as required by legislation.

The measure affected 92 companies in the port of Liverpool, with a combined rates bill of more than £11.5m. Fleetwood, Barrow, Garston, Heysham and Manchester Ship Canal tenants were all hit with unexpected rates bills.

Bob Neill, local government minister, confirmed this week that from 31 March, affected businesses would be able to either waive or reclaim the bills incurred under the 'port tax'.

David Pendleton, business development director for Mersey Maritime, a publicly funded support network for port businesses, said: "Mersey Maritime has been closely involved with this campaign from the very start, helping to bring together the Mersey Dock Rating group and working with other affected port based businesses around the UK. We are delighted to see our combined efforts come to fruition with the lifting of this grossly unfair financial burden.

"At least 70 firms and 3,000 jobs were estimated to be under threat on Merseyside and this in the midst of the worst recession in living memory. The Government's determined effort in first freezing backdated payments and now removing them altogether means that these companies can finally concentrate on moving forward and creating jobs and wealth for the wider economy, which is vital at this time."

Estimated value of the waived tax bills across England will total more than £66m.

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