Publican loses High Court case over business levy rebellion
But Jimmy McGrath says 'we're not dead yet'
26 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Jimmy McGrath outside the High Court
A DEFIANT pub landlord warned Hampstead business bosses “we’re not dead yet” despite senior judges rejecting his legal challenge against a controversial levy.
Jimmy McGrath, owner of the King William IV in Hampstead High Street, had appealed against a magistrates’ ruling forcing him to pay an annual charge to the Hampstead Village Business Improvement District (BID).
All businesses in the village are supposed to pay the extra levy – on top of council rates and their rents – to the BID, which in turn is supposed to use the funds to make the area better for tourism and shopping.
Mr McGrath, who is being represented pro bono by his barrister friend Robert Griffiths QC, argued it was his legal right to know how the BID cash would be spent.
Mr McGrath said this week he had instructed his lawyers to appeal the court’s decision, adding: “It seemed to me that in a democratic society I was entitled to know what my monies and the monies of others was going to be spent on. I continue to fight on and thank those, including my legal team, who have supported me in an attempt to remedy injustice.”
The BID was set up in 2016 and said at its creation that it would raise £1.2million over five years from the levy. Mr McGrath and other rebels against the BID, say there is no clarity on how this money is being spent, however.
They have also questioned some of its outlay, including the hiring of a guide who stands outside Hampstead tube station three days a week helping lost tourists.
The BID has also funded hanging baskets, Christmas party organising and collective bargaining for private recycling collections.
A district judge at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court had, in April last year, ruled that Mr McGrath must pay the annual £642 charge.
But she also said the council, which collects the money on the BID’s behalf, had made a “mistake” in failing to provide printed information about how the BID spent its cash in the demand notice bill.
High Court judge Lord Justice Davis, in rejecting the appeal this week, said: “No doubt the council did misunderstand the effect of the 2004 Regulations with regard to the supply of the required information, in circumstances, moreover, where the Appellant had not agreed to accessing the information via the relevant website. But that was not deliberate. Rather, the council was mistaken.”
He added there was a legal difference between what needed to be “contained” in a demand notice and what was “supplied”, adding: “It is plain enough that the introduction of the BID in Hampstead Village has not proved popular in a number of quarters. The debate can no doubt be renewed in 2021.”
Next year, NW3 businesses will get to vote in a referendum on whether the scheme is scrapped or goes ahead for another five years.
A group of dissenters have already warned that they will challenge its continuation, but the BID itself has defended its work promoting the village for businesses.