How Britain’s shopkeepers are fighting back against flower pot stealth tax

How Britain’s shopkeepers are fighting back against flower pot stealth tax

Business owners in Twickenham have had enough of paying what they consider to be a stealth tax (Picture: Belinda Jiao/Getty)

Napoleon is quoted as saying that ‘England is a nation of shopkeepers’.

But some of those shopkeepers believe that this phrase is becoming increasingly redundant because of what they consider to be a stealth tax.

Already burdened with inflation, higher energy and production costs, and still reeling from the pandemic, many towns and cities have put a levy on local firms on top of their business rates.

This, they say is so flowerbeds, hanging baskets and christmas decorations can be maintained within the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Some argue that this is a function the council should be responsible for as part of the business rates.

Matt Hugill runs Tattoo UK in Twickenham town centre, where the scheme was introduced in 2015 and is run by private company Discover Twickenham.

He told Metro: ‘The roads and pavements outside my shop still look like s***. All this is doing is just costing us money – I cannot see any rewards.’

He refused to pay and ended up being taken to court by Richmond Borough Council which collect the ‘tax’ on Discover Twickenham’s behalf. He won.

Matt Hugill says he has been ‘harassed’ by the scheme (Picture: Belinda Jiao)

He has since received two requests to pay this year’s charge, despite the fact the scheme is yet to correct the way it sends out the bill.

He said: ‘At this point it just feels like bullying and harassment.’

Twickenham is one of 335 places across the UK where the scheme is currently in force. The schemes are are voted in every five years and businesses that vote against BIDs have no choice but to pay.

A BID covering the Yorkshire coast was voted in with a turnout of just 29% – only 217 companies voted out of 1,300 businesses in the area.

Alex French in his shop, Vape Shack (Picture: Belinda Jiao)

Of these, nearly 70 were votes from Scarborough and East Riding councils – the the authorities that collect the money.

Councils are allowed a vote for every business asset they own in a BID area such as public toilets and car parks.

Elsewhere, business owners have rejected the scheme, with areas including Knaresborough, Taunton and Dartmouth all voting against it across the last 10 years.

David Bond in his shop, Tighten Up (Picture: Belinda Jiao)

Back in Twickenham, other businesses have complained the only companies which truly benefit from the scheme are in the centre of the town.

David Bond owns and runs engineering shop Tighten Up which is located in an industrial estate 20 minutes away.

Despite not catering to tourists, families or high street ramblers, he has still been expected to pay more than £3,000 since the scheme began.

He told Metro: ‘When I set up my business, I chose an industrial estate because the general public are not our clientele, we deal with traders.

‘We have just come off our fixed-rate energy bill so need to be careful financially.

‘The money I have spent on BID could have gone to something which actually would have benefited me, like a new Ulez compliant van, or advertising.’

Kevin Jones outside his record shop (Picture: Belinda Jiao)

Ricardo Garcion outside his wine shop (Picture: Belinda Jiao)

Alex French, who owns a shop called Vape Shack, says he started to refuse to pay the cost until they threatened to take him to court.

He said: ‘Times are hard at the minute and I didn’t want the hassle which was clearly going to ensure – and they know this and take advantage of it.’

But others have found the scheme useful to their business, and try to put on events which can benefit everyone.

Kevin Jones, who volunteers to manage the Twickenham BID and co-owns Eel Pie records, said: ‘We run things like training programmes, help with advertising and help improve the look of the local area.

‘It is hard coming up with things which will be good for everyone but I ask those who are unhappy to engage and communicate with us in a productive way.’

Ricardo Garcion, who owns wine shop, Ricardo’s, said the scheme has helped give his business exposure.

He said: ‘Even with things like hanging up Christmas lights, it can help both as a business owner and as someone who is a resident.’

British BIDs declined to comment.

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