Grassmarket shops revolt over council levy demand

BID chief Georgia Artis says firms are benefiting from the scheme. Picture: Lesley Martin
BID chief Georgia Artis says firms are benefiting from the scheme. Picture: Lesley Martin
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A TRADERS’ revolt has erupted in the Grassmarket with a clutch of shops facing legal action for withholding money from the firm charged with promoting the area.

Around 15 businesses have refused to pay annual fees worth hundreds of pounds to the Business Improvement District (BID) body amid a row over how it was elected.

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

The ballot is based on turn out and the businesses’ rateable value. A percentage of a firm’s rateable value is paid as an annual levy to the BID.

But BID chiefs say the ballot – which requires a 25 per cent turnout – was fair and insist the scheme offers members huge savings while bringing a “positive impact to the area”.

Gordon Thomson, a translator based at West Port, helped prepare the petition to void the election that attracted a 36 per cent turnout. He said: “We are concerned with the way the ballot was conducted and there is a lot of anger about this. The main point we are making is that this has gone through on a very small vote: 59 people out of 202 people voted for this BID and 34 voted against. We now have signatures from 65 people wanting the vote to be rerun which is more than the number of people who voted for it originally.”

Mr Thomson said many traders were stunned with bills which they “didn’t even know [were] happening”. He added: “We think it’s a very unfair way to impose a levy because the benefits we believe, if any, will go overwhelmingly to businesses who benefit from increased footfall. We feel small businesses are not going to benefit very much at all.”

Grassmarket jeweller Ian Clarkson said the format of the election was “fishy” as it excluded some larger businesses and said he knew many traders who would not pay.
He said: “We were told if we didn’t pay within 14 days a surcharge would be placed on it and legal action could be taken to reclaim the money.”

Georgia Artis, project manager of Greater Grassmarket, said the voting system was designed to ensure the wishes of smaller businesses were adequately represented.

She said: “Within five years I want the Grassmarket to become a levy-neutral area and I’m trying to ensure all businesses who are willing can make savings that are equal if not much more than the levy. The businesses that have got involved have saved anything from the equivalent of their levy to two, three, four, five times as much straight away.”

Cllr Frank Ross, convener of the Economy Committee, said: “In the interest of fairness to those who have paid the levy and to ensure the BID is able to deliver its business plan, non payment is pursued on behalf of the BID board.”