By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
The overwhelming majority of businesses in Nottingham are voluntarily complying with the Government’s orders that all non-essential shops should close, a senior figure at the council has said.
Two have been given closure orders – the second tier of escalation for businesses not complying – but none have received fines – the third tier of escalation.
A total of 31 firms have received informal advice and instruction from council officers enforcing the rules.
However the council says the majority of these were for small, often accidental infractions that business owners weren’t aware of, for example takeaways which are allowed to remain open for deliveries, but had not taped off seating areas.
The council says it has also been made aware of a small number of businesses overcharging in an attempt to profiteer from the crisis, but in all these cases advice and education from officers had sufficed in terms of enforcement.
Nottingham councillor Sam Webster is the portfolio holder for finance, growth and the city centre, and represents the Castle ward for Labour.
He said he was pleased by how almost all of the business community had come together and followed the rules voluntarily.
He said work was ongoing to help ensure that business rates reductions and grants announced by the Government were automatically being taken off company’s bills and direct debits.
But he added that while this was progressing well, some eligible firms may still need to contact the council to ensure their rates reduction had been applied.
However Councillor Webster said he was concerned at what appears to be a loophole in the Government’s announcements.
Where a business operates from a business centre or incubator such as Bio City, then in some cases they pay the business rate as part of a package to the property owner, and it is the company which owns the building which then pays the businesss rates bill.
As the Government’s rates relaxation only applies to those who actually pay the business rates, Councillor Webster said he is concerned that many businesses in Nottingham and elsewhere may miss out and therefore be financially disadvantaged.
He plans to write to the Government to seek clarity on the issue.
Speaking about the enforcement of closures, he said: “I’m told that it’s working very well, and that there’s been almost universal acceptance.
“I think across society individuals and businesses are following the rules.
“The key message is that our businesses in the city of Nottingham have complied and we haven’t had to escalate any of the cases, so overall it’s been very positive.
“Overall we’ve seen much more positive action from businesses than just the odd case of bad business behaviour, and they’ve been highlighted because they’re so few and far between, which is a really good thing.
“I think we’ve seen a huge amount of positive actions from businesses where they’ve wanted to go above and beyond, they’ve wanted to help, you just have to look at what the taxi drivers are doing for instance, but it’s right across the board, retailers and all different sectors wanting to do the right thing and beyond.
“So overall I think there’s been lots of compliance and lots of positive work as well.”
Councillor Webster also said after the public health element of the crisis, councils and the Government would have to look very carefully about how to get the economy back on track.
An economic growth board – meeting today – will be made up of representatives from some of the city’s larger businesses, as well as the universities, D2N2 and small and medium enterprises, to hear ‘ideas’ about how to aid the economic recovery.
Councillor Webster said: “I think there will have to be a reappraisal when we have got into the recovery stage, when we will want to make sure businesses can thrive after the public health stage.
“Nottingham City Council will do absolutely everything we can when we get into that recovery stage.
“We are starting to have initial conversations about the future, but it’s very much crystal ball gazing at this stage.”