Gainsborough marquee hire firm is denied business rate relief

The owner of a company which provides marquees to major events such as Glastonbury, Leeds and Reading Festivals says he faces insolvency after being ordered to pay nearly £30,000 of business rate debt accrued during COVID-19 — despite arguing he classed as hospitality.

Colin Enos, of Mobile Structures Management in Heapham, near Gainsborough, said his last official big job prior to the outbreak of the pandemic was in October 2019.

West Lindsey District Council said Mr Enos’ business was classed as storage and should not be allowed a 100 per cent business rate holiday offered to hospitality and leisure businesses by the government during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Mr Enos argued that the nature of the events it supplies its marquees to proves otherwise.

Colin Enos appeared at Lincoln Magistrates Court

He warned that if he was forced to pay the rates, despite losing nearly 95% of his business, he would be forced to go into insolvency.

He said he had gone from earning £1.3 million a year to just £80,000 during the pandemic.

Mr Enos himself is on furlough, and said he protected his 17 staff members during lockdown with a £500,000 government loan, which he also faces having to pay back, as well as reaching the limit of his overdraft.

For magistrates at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court it was a straight forward decision in the eyes of the law – the government’s Valuation Office Agency had decided Mr Enos’ land was for storage and the rates were payable.

A representative for West Lindsey District Council told the court: “The land, used for storage, does not meet the criteria for the extended retail discount for certain businesses during the COVID pandemic last year, therefore the charge is payable.”

However, in making a liability order for £29,807 plus £60 costs, the magistrates advised Mr Enos that he should take his case back to the Valuation Office for a dispute tribunal.

If successful, they told him he could return to court to argue his case for having the liability order set aside.

Last year Mr Enos received a COVID grant of £25,000 from WLDC, who at the time classified him as “leisure industry”.

Documents supplied by Mr Enos show West Lindsey’s website said the grant may include (but is not limited to) businesses “within the supply chain of those required to close” including “events services”.

His 40-acre site has a rateable value of £51,000 and is used for the storage of marquees under the planning permission.

Mr Enos is confident his business should be allowed the rate relief.

“Our marquees can only be used for one thing, we’re a specialist firm” he said.

The Government’s guidance on business rates said the 100 per cent discount, decreasing to 66 per cent for the nine months from June 2021, was for “business in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors”.

Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh has also asked for the decision to be looked at again due to the “financial difficulties Mr Enos is facing, the worry and stress he continues to experience as well as the threat to his and his employee’s livelihood.”

“It is clear that Mobile Structures is a business supplying large portable venues for theatrical, musical and religious festivals,” he wrote to Lincolnshire County Council.

His company’s smallest tent can fit around 1,500 people during non-COVID times, and his largest can accommodate around 25,000.

His company was recently paid expenses-only to supply marquees to the test mask-free concert in Liverpool which saw some 6,000 people watch acts such as the Blossoms and Fatboy Slim.