Small shops and cafes in the Royal Borough of Greenwich are being hit by new street trading licensing charges introduced by the council this summer.
Many small businesses are under cost pressure with Business Rates and rents creeping up and sales figures are struggling to keep up with the taxman’s demands.
The council’s new pavement tax only makes things harder. Florists setting out flower displays, grocers’ fruit and veg stalls, and cafes with outdoor seating areas have all been hit.
“I have three square metres of outdoor space. I have to pay for that every week, as well as a £35 admin fee every six months”, says Jason Hunter, owner of the Creaky Shed grocery shop. “It’s a cost that is nearly unbearable for me. I don’t want to put the cost onto my customers. But I’m left with little choice – either I hurt my business by taking down my outdoor display, or I sack my weekend assistant, or I put up my prices.”
The pavement tax is collected weekly and starts at £7 a square metre. It will cost affected businesses between £500 and £1000 each year according to Lorraine Turton, Greenwich Borough Representative for the Federation of Small Businesses.
But the measure is only expected to bring in £20,000 each year for Greenwich Council given the enforcement and administration costs. So despite hitting business hard, the amount raised won’t even cover the council’s contribution to theire Director of Culture, Sport and Media’s generous pension pot.
The council insist that the new policy puts them in line with other London Boroughs that impose similar street trading charges. But Jason rightly asks “why does that mean Greenwich should do the same? Rather than following the herd, Greenwich Council should be standing up for small businesses.”
Maureen O’Mara, the council’s environment cabinet member, claims that the aim of the policy was “not to make money, but simply to give businesses clarity as to what they can and can’t do.” If this were true, the council should look into other ways of clarifying rules before reaching into businesses’ tills.
Greenwich opposition leader Spencer Drury is proposing a motion to abolish the charges at the end of October. A petition launched by the Federation of Small Businesses calling for the removal of the charges has already attracted 1000 signatures and the campaign to abolish the pavement tax is building momentum.