Traders fighting BID in Grassmarket avoid levies

MORE than half of small business owners fighting the establishment of a business improvement district (BID) in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket are avoiding paying levies worth £70,000.

The Grassmarket is one of Edinburgh's top retail and tourist areas. Picture: Lesley Martin
The Grassmarket is one of Edinburgh's top retail and tourist areas. Picture: Lesley Martin

Over 200 small business owners in the Greater Grassmarket area were sent demands for levy charges totalling £127,800 in March and April. But as of last month, the council has confirmed it collected only £57,650.63 from businesses in the area and said it will pursue collection of the fees but did not confirm when the process would commence.

A group calling itself the Grassmarket BID Concerns Group will this week send a letter to Scottish ministers calling for the controversial ballot which led to the formation of the rate charging organisation to be scrapped. The group said it was determined to press ahead with the “next stage” of the fight after councillors and the chairman BID board of directors, Fawns Reid, owner of the well known Grassmarket milliner, Fabhatrix, dismissed concerns over ballot irregularities.

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The BID was formed in February after a vote last year. Of the 202 business owners that are required to pay levies for five years, 59 votes were cast for the BID with 34 against. Under regulation adopted in Scotland in 2007, only 25 per cent of the affected business owners are required to participate in the ballot. Campaigners claim “material irregularities” occurred in the ballot process.

In its letter to ministers, the campaigners claim that these related to “the lack of transparency in the manner in which the scheme was devised and implemented, and a deficient information process”.

This led to a “very low turnout with people stating that they did not receive ballot papers, had no knowledge of what a BID was or were unaware that it involved a compulsory levy”.

Katherine Walker, owner of K1 Yarns, said the opposition group were now “determined to press ahead”.

She said: “They all said they didn’t see there was a problem with the ballot. But some people didn’t even get ballots. So how can it be a ballot when some people didn’t even get to vote?”

She confirmed that letters demanding hundreds, or thousands, depending on the rateable value of the property, started arriving from the City of Edinburgh Council with demands for payment of the full levy within four days.

Walker added: “Some people are really stressed about it. It is the smallest businesses that are most afraid.

“Some are just so tiny yet they end up paying the highest proportion of the levy. Those businesses really have no money to spare. Some of them aren’t even able to give you change if you go in and ask for it.

A spokeswoman for the City of Edinburgh Council: “We act as a billing agent on behalf of the Grassmarket BID.

“We won’t just give up and write things off.”