Improvement charge is slammed as ‘stealth tax’

Businessman David Garthley does not pull his punches on criticism of plan. Picture: Scott Taylor
Businessman David Garthley does not pull his punches on criticism of plan. Picture: Scott Taylor
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A SCHEME set up to revitalise business has been slammed as a “stealth tax” after it emerged votes had been given to council properties including a public toilet and a store room.

Firms in South Queensferry voted in favour of a business improvement district (BID) – a promotional organisation – in 2011.

Steering group Queensferry Ambition was formed to carry out its aims, with a levy collected from each firm in the boundary by Edinburgh City Council.

But critics have described it as a “stealth tax” and hit out at the voting system which saw the council given ballots for non-business premises. It is claimed 40 businesses have been visited by bailiffs.

The city council has defended the voting system, adding premises are given a vote based on their rateable value.

The complaints come a week after furious Grassmarket traders hit out after they were targeted by bailiffs for refusing to pay the levy.

In August, Edinburgh City Council issued summary warrants to 102 small business owners on behalf of the Grassmarket BID and firms which have failed to pay the cash have warned they risk having stock seized and being declared bankrupt.

Audrey Birch, who runs a piano tuning business in South Queensferry, said: “People don’t want to pay the levy. We had a meeting last week to discuss the problem and there were 50 businesses there saying they didn’t want to pay. Some of them have stumped up the cash because they were scared that their bank accounts would be frozen. When it was voted in, a lot of us didn’t know about it – we didn’t realise it would be pushed through because the council want to force it on us. In this day and age it’s extortion.”

However, Malcolm Brown, chair of Queensferry Ambition, said the scheme received the biggest yes vote of any BID scheme in Scotland at that time.

He added: “The vote took place under election conditions and the democratic process took its course. Imagine if someone had said a vote for independence didn’t stand because some people didn’t take part? I’ve been getting complaints about the BID for the past year but it’s from the same small group of people.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We act as a billing agent on behalf of the Queensferry BID. 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 company.

“Every individual or organisation who pays business rates on a property is entitled to a vote in respect of that property.”

It’s not giving it’s just taking

DAVID Garthley, owner of Scruples Jewellers on the High Street, said: “The council got a block vote of 31 – and within that there were things like a public toilet, libraries and a marina – in what way are they businesses? It doesn’t seem right that the council is voting for the BID at all.

“This scheme is not giving us anything, it’s simply taking and not giving. Some business owners here have just got fed up with the whole thing and closed down.”