Cllr Simon Brew, councillor for Purley and member of the board of Purley Business Improvement District, writes on our Labour council's contrary approach to business.
I regret to report that on 27 April 2016 the Council’s Licensing Committee approved a new schedule of massively increased Street Trading Licence fees; businesses have to pay these when they use part of the public pavement for “trading”, for example tables & chairs for pubs and coffee shops, or fruit & veg stalls. The vote went along Party lines, with all Conservative councillors voting against the new scheme.
The current charge is a flat fee of £89/year all over the borough, apart from Surrey Street Market which is the oldest street market in England, having operated since 1236 or earlier, under a variety of different laws.
In North End, the licence fee will be massively increased to £4/sq m PER WEEK. For a 6 month (summer) licence for say 8sq m, this equates to £832; for a full year, the fee for a space of any size is capped at £1600. Away from North End, the rate is set at £2/sq m PER WEEK, which equates to £416 for a summer licence or £832 for a full 12 month licence, and the fee for a space of any size is capped at £1500/year.
The justification for the increase is that current licensing fee income does not cover the costs of processing and enforcing the current licensing regime. However, there are several solutions to this problem, such as to reduce the complexity and therefore cost of the application & enforcement process, or even do away with the licensing scheme altogether, as its use is optional but not mandatory. In any case, all business pay huge sums in business rates; this income stream will soon be received directly by local authorities rather than central government, so some of this income stream could easily be used to pay part of the cost of the licensing scheme.
I’m a member of the Purley Business Improvement District (BID) Board, and I’m extremely concerned at the impact that this massive fee increase will have on shops and traders all over the borough. On the one hand the Council says it wishes to encourage the development of a streetscene culture and encourage people to visit town and district centres to do more local shopping; this would surely include stopping for a coffee or a pint in the sunshine at a pub or coffee shop. But these outdoor tables and chairs will have to generate a MASSIVE amount of extra business if they are to cover their hugely increased costs, and many business may simply decide not to bother, and to withdraw from using the pavement. This in turn will reduce the colour and variety of our district centres, and will surely contribute to declining footfall.