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City centre traders protest levy with flyer in windows

Retailers petitioning Government to scrap BID over extra charges

PRESSURE: Businesses in Whitefnars have some of the biggest fees from the BID
PRESSURE: Businesses in Whitefriars have some of the biggest fees from the BID

MEASURES introduced last autumn that force Canterbury businesses to pay extra for street cleaning and city centre improvements continue to be contentious. Shopkeepers and business-owners across Canterbury are protesting against the city’s Business Improvement District (BID) by placing dissenting posters in their windows. Some traders are already being summoned by the courts for not paying the levy. This raises about half a million pounds a year from several hundred businesses in the city centre to fund improvements ranging from street cleaning to last year’s Christmas lights. The BID was set up by traders under Government guidelines and came into being in October last year.

Travesty

MESSAGE: The anti-BID poster
MESSAGE: The anti-BID poster

But some have argued that the changes aren’t value for money and they are charged extra for things they should receive as standard. Debbie Berwick, of the Canterbury Independent Traders Alliance (CITA), called the situation “a complete travesty”. CITA is applying to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to have the BID scrapped. They are also advising traders who have been called to court for not paying their BID levy to apply to the city council for hardship relief funding. The campaign claims that last year’s vote on the BID, in which 64 per cent of participating businesses supported the plan, was mismanaged and that traders were given no time to object by the Department of Communities and Local Government. It has already drawn the attention of the city’s MP Julian Brazier, who wrote a letter in support of the campaign to the Local Government Ombudsman. Mr Brazier said he had not taken a view on the Business Improvement District itself but wanted to support CITA’s campaign to fmd out more information.

“There are people in favour of it and people like Debbie who are opposed to it. I wrote to her because she wants to complain to the Ombudsman about the process by which the BID was created and she needs my signature, as the local MR for there to be an investigation. My issue is, she and her group complained to the DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government), who, after a lot of back and forth, told her she was too late to complain. I’m now investigating to get the DCLG’s side of that, but if that is the case, then whatever the positives of the BID. I will be objecting because she didn’t get her chance to complain and an administrative injustice has been committed.”

Bob Jones, who leads the BID group, Canterbury Connected, defended the process.

“Canterbury Connected Business Improvement District was established following a ballot of businesses in the city centre last July, in which 54 per cent of businesses took part and in which a majority of 64 per cent of them voted for the BID. The levy that all businesses are legally required to pay is based on this endorsement and is ring-fenced to be spent in the city centre on the projects the businesses voted for, unlike business rates, which are collected locally but allocated nationally. The businesses that are displaying negative posters about the BID in the city centre are completely entitled to do this.”

The BID will operate for five years until a ballot in 2018, in which businesses will vote whether to continue the scheme.

Herne Bay Times, February 11th 2015

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