Vets urge government to relieve struggling practices during COVID-19 pandemic

The BVA is warning that many practices may not survive unless the Government grants them access to business rates relief and other financial support for businesses affected by COVID-19.
calendar icon 27 April 2020
clock icon 4 minute read

As part of the package of measures announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak when lockdown was first put in place in mid-March, businesses in the retail, hospitality, leisure and childcare sectors are eligible for a 100 percent business rates holiday for a year in England, Scotland and Wales, offering a vital economic lifeline when many may have had to close or operate with reduced turnover and staffing. In Northern Ireland, all businesses are eligible for a three-month business rates holiday covering April, May and June.

During the COVID-19 crisis, vets are obliged by law to continue administering urgent and emergency care, while current government guidelines prevent practices from providing their full range of services.

These measures are having a profoundly negative effect on the sector, evidenced by a recent member survey undertaken by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). The results reveal that weekly practice turnover has plummeted by more than 75 percent for nearly a quarter of vets, with two-thirds of practices seeing turnover slashed by 50 percent or more.

However, veterinary practices are not eligible for business rates relief, despite the fact that many are high street businesses and a significant proportion of their income comes from retailing medicines, treatments and other pet products.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), which represents over 18,000 vets across the UK, has heard direct reports from hundreds of members who now fear for their future.

BVA has written to the Treasury and devolved government departments to question why the veterinary profession has so far been overlooked for financial support, while other high street businesses that remain open including food retailers, hardware stores and pet shops are eligible for rates relief.

It has also mobilised its members to contact their local MPs and devolved parliamentarians with their concerns. Several hundred have already downloaded template letters from the BVA website, and parliamentarians representing a wide cross-section of regions and parties have already pledged their support. Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, has also tabled a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (#339) recognising the value of vets and pushing for the profession to be given access to business rates relief.

Daniella Dos Santos, BVA President, said: “The Government has repeatedly given thanks to vets for continuing to maintain animal health and welfare and public health and support the food supply chain in these challenging times. But that makes it all the more disappointing that the profession’s pleas for financial support so far seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Veterinary practices are rightly remaining open to provide 24/7 essential care and fulfilling their duty to maintain animal health and welfare, but many are struggling to stay afloat as they grapple with dramatic reductions in turnover and scaling back their rotas to keep colleagues and clients safe.

“It’s been really heartening to see that parliamentarians across the political spectrum value their local vets’ role in their communities and have offered to put pressure on the Treasury and devolved governments to give practices access to vital financial support. We hope that such a strong and united call will be answered soon, and will continue to urge government to help practices to continue their valuable work in these difficult times.”

The UK’s three leading veterinary care providers, CVS Group, IVC Evidensia and vetPartners, which own nearly 40 percent of all practices, have also added their voice to growing calls for the government to grant the industry business rates relief.

Stuart Caton, Group Chief Commercial Officer & Vice President at IVC Evidensia said: “Put plainly, the government is not doing enough to support the veterinary sector despite its vital function within the UK’s agricultural, food and export industries. Without business rates relief, some practices, which already operate on thin margins, will not survive, and the knock-on effects will be far-reaching.

“The closure of vet practices not only has serious implications for the welfare of the over 50 million pets in Britain, but risks further impacting on public health and disrupting supply chains, at a time of immense pressure and national emergency.”

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