This is an update regarding the Business Rates debacle after a meeting with the council. If you haven't read Part 1 (which has all background information and timeline), I suggest you read that first :) Grab a cuppa. 🧡
Business Rates: a tax charged for businesses who occupy a physical premises.
I met with a Bristol City councillor on Tuesday 8th of August and it was very disappointing. I went armed with a 30 page document that I had written (with help from my network of pals; friends in law, other councils, and our makers, customers and staff). I felt confident, strong and believed I had a really strong case. I have to say, the document is excellent, especially all of the testimonials :)
The document outlines 6 main points of contention. In brief, I challenge the Council’s decision on Business Rates Relief and claim that they have not consulted effectively on this decision. Through merging not-for-profits with large profit-driven retail businesses, groups with protected characteristics will inevitably be discriminated against if not-for-profits are no longer able to operate. We also challenge that the decision directly contradicts the Climate Emergency Action Plan, the Corporate Strategy, The City Centre High Street Recovery Project and the Arts and Culture Policy.
Furthermore, there has been a huge lack of communication, consultation and warning from Bristol City Council to remove the Discretionary Rates Relief. The required 12 month notice period for rate rises wasn't served.
What's worrying is an incomplete Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) was carried out. I found it on page 505 on the councils website 🥴 and I argue that Bristol City Council has not fully considered its public sector equality duty as Prior Shop employs and works with people who primarily represent a protected characteristic: women (especially in business).
So yes, I felt really powerful before I went in. Sadly, when I left, I was in tears.
The councillor said that Bristol City Council does not have any money; that they have had enormous cuts from central government; and that even though he understands my frustration, there is no money to help. I challenged him about the 'no money' because there are documented projects that the council are supporting, and the closure of Prior literally contradicts what they are proudly funding. I left annoyed and deflated. There was lots of empathy, but no movement in decision; lots of blame on the Government budget cuts (which I hugely sympathise with), apologies of how bad the department have been with communication and appreciation for how much we stand to loose. However, there was a strong suggestion to 'just move into a smaller unit'.
I'm determined to stay here, in Cabot Circus. I think it's important for independents to occupy spaces next to huge global fast fashion chains to show there is an alternative. The high streets need diverse businesses that promote sustainable lifestyle and the local creative tradespeople in the UK. We need places like us that spearhead creative workshops and business mentoring, and are a main venue for the presentation of arts and culture - giving voice and visibility to local groups and businesses in a space where they're normally invisible.
Business Rates are valued by Central Government and the prices are not managed by the local council, they are merely the debt collectors. The Government give all charities 80% mandatory rate relief so that is my only way to save the shop in the current location.
Forever the optimist, I left my 30 page document with them and emailed it to everyone at the council I could find an email address for. I would like them to officially answer the points I have raised. If they hold tight with the 'no money' answer then I have to find an alternative...
My next steps:
- I have submitted a Check and Challenge appeal with the VOA to ask them to review our business rates, so hopefully it will be reduced a small amount.
- Register as a charity. I have emailed multiple charity law firms for quote. Once we get this official document, we will automatically receive the rate relief again.
- Hope that the Government provides some form of Business Rates next year. I obviously welcome this but what's annoying is if it happens - it's likely to be across the board for ALL retail shops (not just independents) and Apple, Harvey Nicks etc will also get the same relief.
- Take this campaign to central government. It's shocking how disproportionate business rates are. They are based solely on a buildings intended use, not actual use. It does not factor in (nor support) the need for UK small, independent businesses to reclaim and recover the high street. The current rates keep independent businesses out of the City Centre. It needs to change, so watch this space. 🤘🏼
The company that manages Cabot Circus shopping centre have been nothing short of amazing. They are fully supportive and are doing everything they can to help.
Lots of people keep asking what they can do to help so I have, reluctantly created this donation page. The legal costs and time that is needed to set up a charity will be costly and will take me away from my management duties. I'm going to need to get extra staff to cover my absence as I am writing and researching.
There is no pressure to donate - it's only if you are able as I know how tight money is for so many. Please continue to shop with us too as that ultimately helps us with costs and also supports independent brands too.
In other news - check out these amazing testimonials below!