Worthing language school ‘in desperate need’ of business rates relief

Worthing’s main language school, Centre of English Studies (CES), is in desperate need of business rates relief in order to survive the pandemic, its principal has said.

Suzie Abrahamson, principal of CES Worthing in Stoke Abbott Road, said she and staff have been campaigning for the relief since June last year, but ‘they are still being refused’.

“The decision not to grant us relief seems so unjust considering that so many other councils have already set a precedent by confirming that they will offer business rates relief for 2020/21,” she added.

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“We are the last year-round language school in Worthing and we are trying desperately to survive this pandemic and the only way we can do this is if we are given the business rates relief that we and other councils feel we are eligible for.”

Suzie Abrahamson pictured with Antonio Amorim (left), Chris Williams and Conrad Bezuidenhout outside CES Worthing. Picture: Steve Robards

For more than 40 years, CES Worthing has welcomed thousands of students from all over the world to the UK, Ireland and Canada to study English.

Many students stay with local host families or in hotels in our town, bringing millions of pounds into the local economy in accommodation costs alone.

In addition, Suzie said students spend around £600,000 per year in Worthing and surrounding areas on hospitality, tourism, food and beverages, travel and retail.

But the English language teaching industry (ELT) is in crisis as a result of the pandemic, she added, as student numbers are down and staff have lost their jobs or have been furloughed.

Worthing CES students pictured in 2019

“We want to make people aware of how important our contribution to the local economy really is,” continued Suzie.

“And protecting the livelihoods of our staff, supplementing the household incomes of our homestay families and supporting other tourism and leisure businesses including cafes, restaurants, pubs, shops and attractions.”

Language schools have not been included in the guidance to local authorities as being eligible for business rates relief – retail discount.

However local councils have been given the authority to decide for themselves which businesses qualify.

Suzie Abrahamson pictured with Antonio Amorim (left), Chris Williams and Conrad Bezuidenhout outside CES Worthing. Picture: Steve RobardsSuzie Abrahamson pictured with Antonio Amorim (left), Chris Williams and Conrad Bezuidenhout outside CES Worthing. Picture: Steve Robards

Other schools within the St Giles Group, in Brighton and Eastbourne, have received relief, as have schools in some other local authorities across the country.

In response, a spokesman for Worthing Borough Council said: “Expanded Retail Relief is a government scheme with awards based on strict criteria which says it is only for premises which members of the public can ordinarily – in pre-Covid times – visit.

“Given Centre for English Studies (CES) serves customers who pre-book stays, they do not qualify. We have been clear and open about the criteria from the off.

“Recognising the importance they and other language schools play in the local economy, we have been proactive in providing practical and financial support during this difficult time.

“In the case of CES, this has included discretionary grant support of nearly £60,000.”

CES Worthing said it was ‘very grateful for the help it has received so far, but the current framework allows for further much needed support to be awarded’.

Chris Williams, finance director, said: “Customers can walk in off the street and pre-book in exactly the same way hotels operate so this can’t be a reason to not award us rates relief. The guidelines allow the council to use their own discretion which is why more than 15 councils have already made awards. We are no different to any other language school. The economic boost CES gives to Worthing is worth saving. We believe the relief is deserved.”

Worthing’s MP Sir Peter Bottomley said he and his team have ‘long supported the campaign asking for business rates relief for this sector given the obvious challenges faced during the pandemic’.

He added: “We have been in close contact with the principal and team at Worthing’s CES. The centre has long been a respected and acclaimed establishment contributing enormously not only to our local economy but to our society and community too.”