Grassmarket group ‘Mafia-style extortion scheme’

Fawns Reid, owner of Fabhatrix, supports the levy. Picture: Toby Williams
Fawns Reid, owner of Fabhatrix, supports the levy. Picture: Toby Williams
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MORE than 100 traders in the Old Town are facing legal action over their refusal to pay a business levy.

It’s thought between them they owe as much as £70,000 in unpaid dues to the Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District (Bid).

Edinburgh Council has issued summary warrants to 102 small business owners on behalf of the organisation.

Traders had previously been warned that if sums deemed to be owed were not paid within 14 days, a surcharge would be added.

But now the business improvement body has been accused of running a “Mafia-style extortion scheme” as traders now face action from sheriffs to collect outstanding levies.

It’s understood 15 have point-blank refused to pay mandatory levies after only 59 of the 230 businesses in the area voted to form the body in a ballot held last year.

Under a regulation adopted in Scotland in 2007, only 25 per cent of the affected owners were required to vote in favour of forming the Bid, which imposes mandatory levies on all firms in a designated area based on the rateable values of their premises for five years.

Campaigners have claimed “material irregularities” occurred in the ballot process and are petitioning Scottish Government ministers to scrap the results of the vote.

Gordon Thomson, a translator based in West Port who is among those leading the campaign against the Bid, said: “It comes as no surprise that summary warrants have been issued. It is simply not true that all businesses are benefiting. How can businesses on George IV Bridge benefit from events held in the Grassmarket? This is becoming more and more like a Mafia-style extortion scheme, with the few in control now calling in the heavies to put the pressure on.”

He had previously claimed that businesses with substantial footfall might benefit, but small sole traders were unlikely to see any difference.

But Fawns Reid, chair of the Greater Grassmarket Bid board of directors and owner of retailer Fabhatrix, insisted that the ballot was “democratic” and that all businesses were set to benefit from the body’s plans.

She said: “The Greater Grassmarket Bid business plan, approved by a democratic 
ballot of the businesses in 2012, is being delivered and businesses are already seeing the benefits, including significant cost savings, improved cleanliness of the area and increased profit through events and activities.

“The Greater Grassmarket is dependent on every penny of revenue collected to enable the continued delivery of these projects and services, which improves and enhances the trading environment for its members and the local community.

“We believe that it is only fair to those businesses that have paid their levy contribution to see other businesses, which operate around them and take the same benefit, make their financial contribution.”

The body said it has helped businesses around the Grassmarket save money through a range of benefits offered to its members, including discounts on the costs of insurance, water, electricity and broadband.

A petition signed by 65 local business owners has already been submitted to City 
Chambers demanding the ballot that elected the Bid – dubbed Greater Grassmarket – is rerun because of a “fishy” mandate.