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News Report Page 7 of 8
Publication Date:-
News reports located on this page = 3.

West Lancashire Freemasons give $150,000 for victims of Australian bush fires

PEOPLE who have lost everything in the catastrophic Australian bushfires will be among those to benefit from a grant of AUS $150,000 (₤79,000) from West Lancashire Freemasons to the Disaster Relief Funds set up by Freemasons in Australia. The grant from the English and Welsh Freemasons' charity will see AUS$50,000 given to the Australian Freemasons' Disaster Relief Funds in each of the 3 states most affected by the blaze: New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The unprecedented fires have seen 27 deaths, including a number of firefighters, with 2,136 homes destroyed in New South Wales alone, more than 1,200 of which have burned down since New Year's Eve. Thousands of Australians are living in more than a dozen large evacuation centres, having been forced to flee the blaze. Meanwhile, hundreds of homes and businesses have been lost in Victoria and South Australia. Many Australians have lost everything and the impact on the livelihoods of ordinary people is vast. The economy will take many years to fully recover. An estimated 18 million acres of land have been burned, an area almost as large as Ireland. There has been an enormous impact on the environment, with up to a billion animals being killed. The death toll among koala bears alone has led to calls for the animals to be placed on the endangered species list. Freemasons from West Lancashire have contributed to the grant that comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by Freemasons, their families and friends, from across England and Wales. Tony Harrison from West Lancashire Freemasons said:- "These terrible fires are an ongoing disaster for thousands of Australians. I'm very pleased that West Lancashire Freemasons are working together with Freemasons in Australia to raise funds to help the victims of the blazes, many of whom have lost everything."

Struggling Retailer paying over ₤1 million more in business rates than it should be

STRUGGLING department store Beales which is at risk of collapse into administration unless it can find another last minute buyer, is the latest victim of the absurdity of the business rates system, particularly transitional relief says John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers international. Beales' 22 Regional stores are paying a total of ₤2.847 million in business rates this year, but according to estimates by Colliers this is more than they should be; all due to downwards phasing introduced following the 2017 Revaluation. Adding up the 4 years of overpayment by Beales, Colliers estimate the retailer has paid ₤1.060 million in business rates more than it should have in the years since the Revaluation.

Business rates are based on a property's rent. Transitional relief was designed to reduce the increase by which rates would rise following an upwards rent revaluation, staggering the rise over a 4 year period. But to keep the total business rate tax take revenue neutral, this has been funded by those businesses based in areas where rents were dropping and who should therefore have been seeing their business rates payments reducing. Instead, for many businesses, business rates reductions have been phased in slowly with the result that many struggling companies have perversely been paying more than they should be, whether or not they could afford to.

In Beale's case, the company saw a 14% decline in its Rateable value in the 2017 Valuation and therefore should have seen a 14% reduction in its rates bill. In reality it only saw a 3% drop in 2017/8 and in subsequent years the drops were -1% and -2%.  To quote John Webber, "In a period in which retail has already been struggling due to internet competition and other rising costs, such rates reductions have been pitifully inadequate" and" have certainly contributed to the business's current demise."

Tony Brown the Chief Executive of Beales has called the business rates situation at the company "lunacy" and claims in some stores the rate bill is 3 or 4 times the rent bill. John Webber added, "Of course Beales is not alone. Many other stores who have joined the long list of CVAs and administrations since 2017 have suffered in a similar way. A number of Debenhams and House of Fraser stores on the closure lists were there because they were paying artificially high business rates due to phased downwards transition. Toys R Us suffered the same fate and was paying many hundreds of pounds worth of business rates bills higher than it should have been. There is 1 chink of light at the end of the tunnel. We are about to see a new Revaluation in 2021 and given retail rents have collapsed, business rates falls should in theory follow. Of course, the Government could put a spanner in the works and again introduce downwards transition as it did in 2017, limiting reductions. But that would be disastrous. 1 can only hope (and pray) that Mr Johnson and his colleagues have learnt from the deserted high streets of 2020 and the thousands of jobs losses -and provide a fairer playing field for the physical retailers. If he doesn't, I'm afraid the crisis can only get deeper."

MFRS echoes concerns over Landlord Licensing decision

MERSEYSIDE Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) has echoed the concerns of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson following a decision to scrap the Council's landlord Licensing Scheme. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has turned down an application to keep the Citywide scheme going for 5 years from April 2020, despite it having been backed by MFRS, Merseyside Police and a large number of residents.  The Government said the application; put forward by Liverpool City Council:- "did not demonstrate robust evidence to support the existence of low housing demand across the whole City." This is something both the Council and MFRS rejects. Government approval is needed for schemes which cover more than 20% of a Council area, with Liverpool wanting to continue the Citywide scheme due to the size and scale of the issue with the private rented sector in the City, which accounts for up to half of housing in some areas and covers 55,000 properties in total. MFRS works closely with local authorities across Merseyside, including Liverpool City Council, to make sure those living in rented accommodation are safe. The Licensing Scheme gives greater powers to access properties to carry out inspections and take enforcement action where necessary.

The decision to stop the scheme will severely hamper attempts to drive up standards in the private rental sector and keep vulnerable people safe; particularly in relation to fire safety in rented properties. Area Manager Gary Oakford said:- "We at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service know first-hand the benefits of Liverpool City Council's Licensing Scheme, with 70% of properties inspected since 2015 having been found to be in breach of their licence condition. The scheme has allowed both the Council and ourselves to uncover serious hazards including fire risks such as poor electrical safety, non-provision of smoke alarms and excess cold, resulting in residents being forced to use inappropriate heating and cooking methods.

Under the scheme, we've seen an increase in smoke alarm installation, less house fires and less fire deaths. The ability to carry out proactive enforcement will be severely diminished as a result of this ruling and that's why we are backing calls for this decision to be reviewed as soon as possible."

MFRS carries out more than 60,000 home fire safety checks each year across Merseyside, installing smoke alarms and giving vital safety information to those who need it most. This outstanding prevention activity has resulted in the lowest number of fire deaths since records began. AM Oakford added:- "We work closely with Liverpool City Council to make sure those living in rented accommodation in the City are equally as safe, but this ruling makes it more difficult for us to do so and could ultimately lead to lives being put at risk."

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