Brighton and Hove has long had a tradition of vibrant, independent shops, cafes and restaurants that give our city its unique feel. But this bohemian culture which attracts millions of visitors to our city each year, is now at risk due to the Conservative government’s ill-conceived attack on small businesses.
This week the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond announced three measures which he says will help soften the blow: a £50 cap on monthly increases to businesses coming out of rate relief, a £300m hardship fund for those businesses worst affected, and a £1000 annual discount for pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000. But let’s be clear, this ‘help’ is like handing Monty Python’s Black Knight a bandage after his arms and legs have been cut off.
The government continually talks about small business being the bedrock of the economy. And rightly so: it is. According to the Federation of Small Businesses last year 99.3 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK were small businesses, and together they accounted for 47 per cent of total private sector turnover and 60 per cent of all private sector employment.
But many of our city’s best-loved small businesses are staring down the barrel of a gun. Last month I went to a meeting of the Brighton Restaurant Association where most of their members were facing crippling rate rises which forced them to reassess the viability of their business. One restaurant was looking at a 100 per cent increase, backdated to April 2015.
And the independent sector is disproportionately affected: at Brighton Station for example, M&S Food is rated at £160/m² whereas the Curry Leaf kiosk next to it is rated at £1000/m² and Bagelman (opposite) is rated at £1250/m².
The Cyclist pub next door recently closed, allegedly due to the train strikes but the imminent rise in business rates can’t have helped.
There is a human cost too. The stress and anxiety of struggling with bills, the uncertainty for staff reliant on wages, the potential closure of much-loved businesses, and the effect on staff left without work and unable to pay their own bills after the inevitable happens.
But while Rome burns the council leadership does nothing. I am calling on the Labour Administration to do more to stand up for the city’s small businesses, and help defend the city’s unique culture that we have all grown to love so much.
Cllr Tom Druitt is the Green Party’s spokesperson on economic development and culture on Brighton andHove City Council and a councillor for the Regency ward.