Northumberland hotel hits out at grants scheme as fears mount for county's tourism industry

A Northumberland hotelier has criticised the fact that they are missing out on Government coronavirus grants while claiming second-home owners are cashing in.

Under the scheme launched last month by the Chancellor, smaller businesses in the hospitality sector are eligible for grants up to £25,000, but only if they have a rateable value of less than £51,000.

An owner of a small hotel on the north Northumberland coast has pointed out that hotels attract a disproportionately high rateable value compared with other premises in their sector; a hotel’s fundamental product is its property and they must offer a comprehensive range of facilities on one site, hence their high rateable value.

The Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel

“Setting an arbitrary limit of £51,000 on eligibility for grants is excluding even small hotels under 20 bedrooms from assistance and shows a complete lack of understanding for our rural industry,” said Victoria Fyffe, who owns the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel in Embleton.

“Independent hotels are crucial to the fabric of our local communities; we are the largest employer in our parish, we provide 20-plus local people with legitimate permanent jobs on the payroll, and we support a large network of small local suppliers and generate substantial revenues for HMRC and the local economy.

“We live here as well as operating a business, so we also play a key role in supporting our local community.

“Until now we’ve paid our furloughed staff over £20,000 from our own personal savings, as the furlough scheme hasn’t reimbursed us yet – and we can’t get any help because our rateable value is too high.

“We’re not a big business – we’ve only got 18 bedrooms – but our hotel has been at the centre of village life for more than 100 years. If we go, then the local economy will suffer.”

Victoria explained that the situation was made more frustrating by the existing ‘loophole’ through which second homes that are used as holiday lets can claim small business rate relief – and are therefore eligible for the Government grants.

“It’s even more devastating, because I know of wealthy second home-owners in our area who make money on the side by letting their holiday homes commercially when they’re empty, and are now receiving £10,000 handouts from Northumberland County Council, by virtue of the small business rate relief that they claim for their second homes.

“It’s scandalous that the Government’s hospitality grant scheme is rewarding these people. Their ‘businesses’ are receiving £10,000 grants – most of which will be pocketed by the individual owners – while legitimate local businesses like ours are denied help in this terrible crisis.”

Earlier this month, Northumberland County Council revealed that it is lobbying the Government to provide more cash for ‘businesses that are falling between the cracks’, with particular concern about the county’s tourism industry.

Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for tourism, said that tourism ‘is the bedrock of Northumberland’s economy’ and that ‘it is therefore vital we do everything we can to support these businesses, which will help lead the economic recovery once current restrictions are eased’.

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