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Written Statements

Volume 531: debated on Thursday 11 August 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 11 August 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Public Disorder (Business Support)

The appalling criminality we have seen across England in recent days has devastated not only local communities but also a very significant number of businesses. BIS and other Government Departments are working with local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and business organisations to ensure affected businesses have access to practical advice, information and support to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. I would like to set out what help and advice we can offer these businesses.

Insurance

Businesses which have suffered loss should obtain a crime number from the police and contact their insurers immediately. We are working closely with the insurance industry to make sure that all claims from affected businesses are dealt with swiftly and satisfactorily. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have confirmed that insurers’ priority is to help business through this traumatic period. Insurers are working as quickly as they can to deal with claims and most have 24-hour call centres.

The ABI advise us that their member companies will be on hand to answer any questions that affected businesses may have. Most commercial insurance policies will cover businesses for damage to their premises, including the interruption to their business as a result of fire, looting and the other damage caused by the recent riots. Some policies will also cover those businesses which are not damaged but whose trade has been affected by the aftermath.

Any uninsured individual, homeowner or business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting, can seek compensation from their Police Authority under the Riot Damages Act. It is normally the case that claims must be received within 14 days but to give people more time to submit these claims the Home Secretary is extending the period to 42 days.

Online information and advice

Our online resource for business, www.businesslink. gov.uk, has already been updated with practical advice and information on business continuity, risk management, and safety guidance. The business link national helpline number is 0845 600 9006.

This is in addition to advice issued by local police forces and specific information circulated by relevant trade associations.

High Street Support Scheme

Affected businesses will also be able to call upon help from the new £20 million High Street Support Scheme that I am announcing today jointly with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The flexible scheme will be aimed at supporting the specific streets and areas where businesses have suffered most as a result of the disturbances.

Authorities will be able to use it to:

fund the proportion of hardship relief from business rates that would otherwise fall to them;

help affected firms to get back up and running quickly, for instance if assistance is needed with business clear-up, replacement of equipment, or costs of temporary accommodation.

We will keep the steps we have taken under review. This is an evolving situation and we are working to assess the cost to affected businesses.

Business Rates.

Central Government will fund three quarters of the cost of hardship rate relief to give businesses in need relief from business rates. Through the High Street Support Scheme we will also cover the proportion normally borne by local authorities.

Seriously damaged business properties will be taken off valuation lists, and the Secretary of State for Communities has strongly encouraged the Valuation Office Agency to do so as promptly as possible. This removes any liability for council tax or business rates.

Access to Finance

We are working closely with the British Bankers Association to ensure that affected businesses of all sizes, but especially small businesses, receive help.

Where businesses have been affected by the recent rioting banks have put in place special arrangements to make sure that emergency enquiries from affected customers can be dealt with simply and quickly.

Banks have put in place numbers for customers to call, teams are available inside the banks to help and business relationship managers are getting in contact.

The banks will sympathetically and sensitively consider the problems of each business. Additional financial support will be available should it be required to provide solutions for the affected businesses. These include, for example, where necessary making available short to medium-term finance arrangements for repairs and to replace stock, and repayment holidays until insurance claims are settled.

Tax

HMRC will delay tax payments for businesses needing help through Time to Pay and will offer other practical support. They have today announced a single, Civil Disorder Helpline number—0845 3661207 to provide comprehensive advice. They will deal sympathetically with problems currently faced by businesses and individuals, including:

agreeing payment schedules, including short tem deferrals, with those who are unable to pay their tax bills due to temporary financial difficulties;

practical solutions where businesses and individuals cannot meet their other obligations—for instance, if their records have been lost or destroyed in the disturbances.

Companies House

If any affected business will be unable to file accounts or other documents on time as a direct result of the disturbances. Companies House will agree an extension and ensure that companies do not incur the usual penalties which apply for late filings.

Employment advice

ACAS have issued advice on good practice regarding management of employees in these circumstances.

This includes advice and information about the legal position for employees and employers especially where there is disruption to normal working hours http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3418.

I would like to express my appreciation to those business organisations whose members have been affected and who have responded with urgency to provide advice and support at this difficult time. I would also like to thank all their members and local branches who have worked closely with the police.

Bank

Business Contact Number

Bank of Scotland

0845 300 0268

To make an insurance claim call - 0844 893 9582

For general inquiries call - 0800 048 4363

Barclays

0845 605 2345

HSBC

08457 606 060

Lloyds TSB

0845 072 5555

To make an insurance claim call - 0844 893 9580

For general inquiries call - 0844 893 9560

NatWest

0800 158 5977

RBS

0800 092 3087

Santander

0800 056 1991

The Government recognise that the impact on business will continue beyond this immediate recovery period, and we will continue to work together with business organisations to identify what longer-term help is needed. This is particularly true of our high streets which the Government are committed to supporting and promoting. We will also work with the foreign investor community to restore confidence in the UK as a destination for investment. BIS Local will work closely with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities to secure a prosperous and vibrant future for our local high streets.

Communities and Local Government

Public Disorder (Community Support)

I wish to outline the steps we are taking to support and rebuild local communities after the shameful criminal activity of recent days.

Recovery Scheme

Affected local authorities will continue to be eligible for the long-standing Bellwin scheme to meet immediate and sizeable recovery costs. However, the thresholds in the existing scheme mean that most councils would only receive assistance above costs in excess of circa £l million, and we assess that many affected local authorities may not benefit.

To support local councils, I am establishing a new recovery scheme of up to £10 million, allocated to councils via Section 31 grants. Councils will be able to claim back the costs directly incurred in making areas safe, clean and clear again. This fund can also be used to support councils who use their powers to offer council tax discounts or council tax relief to those whose homes have been damaged but are still habitable.

In this extraordinary situation, my Department is also willing to meet the immediate costs of re-housing those made homeless by these disturbances. This can be done under established homelessness funding processes.

Seriously damaged domestic and business properties will be taken off the respective valuation lists, and I have strongly encouraged the Valuation Office Agency to do so as promptly as possible. This removes any liability for council tax or business rates.

High Street Support Scheme

With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, we will provide an additional £20 million to create a new High Street Support Scheme. The flexible scheme will be aimed at supporting the specific streets and areas where businesses suffered most as a result of the disturbances. Local authorities will be able to use it to fund the proportion of hardship relief from business rates that would otherwise fall to them, and to help affected firms to get back up and running quickly, for instance if assistance is needed with business clear-up, replacement of equipment, or costs of temporary accommodation. A quarter of the cost of hardship rate relief is normally borne by local authorities and three quarters by central Government.

We will keep the steps we have taken under review. This is an evolving situation and we are working to assess the cost to affected businesses. We will announce further details of the Recovery Scheme and High Street Support Scheme next week and expect that councils will be able to make claims and receive grants quickly and easily.

In addition, any individual, home owner or small business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting can seek compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act. Importantly this compensation is paid to the uninsured too. It is normally the case that claims must be received within 14 days, but to give people more time to submit these claims we will extend the period to 42 days. We will urge the police to respond helpfully and swiftly to all legitimate claims, and the Government are working closely with forces, to ensure they have the funds they need to meet the costs of the operation itself and any claims that they may receive under the Riot (Damages) Act.

It is not just for the state to support local firms affected by these criminal actions. I encourage every local resident to make an effort to shop locally in this and coming weeks and support the local high streets which are the lifeblood of our communities.

Sanctions against criminals

Crime does not pay and I want to send out a strong signal to these violent criminals.

It is already a ground for eviction in existing legislation if a tenant or a member of their family is involved in antisocial behaviour or criminal activity in their local neighbourhood. I would urge landlords to consider this provision. We welcome the decision of Hammersmith and Fulham, Greenwich, Southwark and Manchester among others to seek to evict their social tenants found guilty of rioting, and would encourage more local authorities to follow suit.

My Department is proposing to make necessary changes to housing legislation so that landlords will have even stronger powers to evict tenants who engage in serious antisocial behaviour or criminal activity such as rioting beyond the local neighbourhood. We intend to consult on this proposal immediately as part of the ongoing consultation on anti-social behaviour.

Tribute to local communities

The professionalism shown by all firefighters across the nation over the last few days has been outstanding, and I would like to thank all of them for their efforts.

Fire crews have carried out their duties in the face of shameful criminal behaviour of rioters, who have physically attacked the very people protecting their homes and communities from arson.

We all owe them all a debt of gratitude for their tireless work protecting lives and communities, and we have a fire and rescue service of which we can rightly proud.

Local councils have also risen to the challenge, leading the clear-up in their local areas and supporting those worst affected. There have been some striking examples of positive social action, uniting our communities across class, colour and creed.