Grassmarket business plea rejected by government

Derek Mackay. Picture: SNS
Derek Mackay. Picture: SNS
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The Scottish Government has dealt a blow to campaigners seeking to overturn a vote on a business improvement district (Bid) they claim was flawed.

A group of small business owners fighting the Greater Grassmarket Bid in Edinburgh have been told by planning minister Derek Mackay that their appeal has been refused because they did not submit the application within 28 days of the vote.

In a letter sent to the campaigners last week, the government said ministers could “only act when they have powers to do so” and that it is only able to intervene in the 28-day window allowed by legislation.

Gordon Thomson, who has a translation business on the West Port, submitted the petition last month although the vote took place in November 2012.

He, along with a number of campaigners, collected 65 names backing claims that “material irregularities” occurred in the ballot, with several businesses claiming not to have received ballot papers at all.

But, in the letter sent to Thomson, Mackay, pictured below, said: “Scottish ministers’ role is limited to an adjudication role if complaints about the ballot process are made by sufficient eligible voters within 28 days of the announcement of the ballot result. Following the Grassmarket Bid ballot in November 2012 no complaints were made to Scottish ministers within the time period permitted by the regulations.”

It added: “I know you feel very strongly about the establishment of a Bid in Grassmarket, but, as explained ministers can only act when they have powers to do so. A request now to consider declaring the ballot result void is not within the timescale required by legislation and therefore cannot be acted upon.”

The decision will put pressure on the retailers and business owners who initially refused to pay levies, which includes the owners of the Bow Bar and the family-owned jewellers, Clarksons.

Last month the City of Edinburgh Council issued warrants on behalf of the Bid company against firms that had not paid the fees. There are 230 companies in the Bid area that are required to pay levies, which range from between £300 per year for the smallest businesses to more than £3,000. The Bid expects to raise a minimum of £127,800 each year from the firms to fund cleanups and marketing events.

Georgia Artus, the Greater Grassmarket bid project manager, said: “We have been trying to build relationships with all the businesses in the area and have repeatedly tried to open invitations to meet and discuss the Bid with businesses that have concerns. Those invitations are still definitely open. We welcome positive communications from any businesses in the area.”

Of the 230 business owners required to pay levies, 59 votes were cast for the Bid with 34 against. Under regulations, only 25 per cent of the affected business owners are required to participate in the ballot.