CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Appeal to keep business levies frozen amid coronavirus crisis

Charges suspended for the moment

18 May, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The Hampstead BID pays for a guide to help visitors but has been with a rebellion among some businesses

LEVY-COLLECTING business groups are being urged not to start sending out bills again before the coronavirus crisis is fully over.

Some Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) – organisations that take a compulsory charge beyond rent and council rates in return for working to improve trading conditions – are looking at when to start collecting money again.

The levies were suspended in March at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

Councillor Oliver Cooper, leader of Camden Conservatives, said: “BIDs have the power to suspend collection of BID levies, and they should do this for the duration of the crisis: both helping firms’ cashflow and sending a clear signal that our town centres will get all the support they need.”

The Hampstead Village BID – launched in 2016 after a local referendum – suspended its levies in March.

Councillor Oliver Cooper

The organisation, run by private management firm Primera, has used its funds for hanging baskets and a tourist guide who stands outside the tube station three days a week.

Sebastian Wocker, publisher of  Hampstead Village Voice which campaigns against the BID, said it was “completely unethical”, adding: “The BID should be shut down immediately and all monies refunded”.

But manager Marcos Gold said the BID board could help ensure Hampstead “visitors and residents have the confidence to return and be kept safe”, adding: “Throughout the pandemic businesses haven’t been charged. The board is future planning to see how we can best support businesses as the lockdown measures start to be lifted and individuals can have the confidence to shop, eat, and visit Hampstead.”

Simon Pitkeathley

Simon Pitkeathley, who runs Camden Town’s BID, Camden Town Unlimited, said: “We’ve managed to rearrange our finances so that we won’t send our levy bills out for now. We’ll continue this for as along as we can but the longer this goes on the harder it will be for any BID to survive without income of some sort.”

He said CTU had helped with providing information about schemes and a directory of which businesses were open during lockdown.

At a council meeting this week, regeneration chief Cllr Danny Beales said: “Ultimately it’s up for BIDs as independent organisations to come to their own decisions and the boards of the BIDs will do. So it’s not for us to instruct them. But we’re quite clear. We are not saying that they have to [collect levy].”

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