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Port firms on Merseyside spared 'grossly unfair' tax

Port companies on Merseyside have been spared from paying millions of pounds in back-dated tax through the introduction of emergency regulations.

Retrospective hikes in business rates have been suspended and are expected to be scrapped in 2011.

At least 10 of Merseyside's estimated 300 port companies closed under pressure to meet initial payments.

Birkenhead's NW Trading, which has laid off 10 of its 50 staff, said it was "a victory for common sense".

The cargo-handling company, which also operates out of Hull, received a £2.5m backdated bill from the government's Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in 2008.

The bills were a result of the VOA re-assessing all port companies' property assets and increasing bills retrospectively.

Tony Woolrich, managing director of NW Trading, which has an annual turnover of £2.5m, said that firms had no way of passing on the unforeseen cost to customers.

He said: "The size of the bill was enough to wipe us out and we have only survived by managing our way out of it very carefully.

"We had to lay off 20% of our staff in Birkenhead to get us through a period that we should never have had to deal with.

"This is a victory for common sense and we're absolutely delighted because it was grossly unfair."

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