Hackney’s small businesses fight back against rates hike

Paul Gardner in Gardner's Bags Pic: Maddy White

Paul Gardner in Gardner’s Bags is one of the driving forces behind the petition Pic: Maddy White

More than 2400 Hackney locals have signed a Change.org petition in protest at the impending imposition of rate hikes they warn will force small businesses in the borough to close.

The petition, set up by Hackney Council and the East End Trades Guild on February 9, was fast approaching its 2500 target today (February 16).  Click here to view the petition.

Eastlondonlines first reported on the government’s plans to revalue businesses this coming April based on property prices known as rateable value last year. Hackney has had the highest rateable value increase in London with an average of 46 per cent. This has resulted in many family-run and local businesses in the borough facing the real possibility of selling out to large corporations.

The petition’s main objective is to “increase relief rates for small businesses and introduce a new system for medium sized businesses”. It also aims to “devolve the operation and setting of London’s business rates to London’s government so they better suit the challenges of the capital”.

Paul Gardner, of Gardners’ Bags at 149 Commercial Street has had one of the highest increases in rateable value, from £18,000 to £40,000. He initially visited Downing Street after being selected as one of the UK’s top 100 small businesses. After meeting MP Margot James, Minister for small businesses it was only then that he raised the issue and a Change.org petition was created.

Gardner told ELL: “It was pretty mad, I went to Downing Street and it was supposed to be about the UK’s top 100 small businesses. I spoke to Margot James about the shop, but then I told her that half of the people here at the moment probably will not be here next year because of the massive rate increase.”

Gardners’ Bags is a family-run establishment and was founded 147 years ago, it remains central to the community.

He added: “It has been in my family for over 100 years and it isn’t something I want to give up. I love what I do, but it is so daunting. It is a struggle everyday, I don’t think many can afford to stay here much longer.”

As well as smaller business owners many local people have been sharing their reasons for signing it too. “I enjoy a vibrant borough that supports local SMEs rather than multinational corporations,” one resident said. Others included that the businesses were too important to lose and the face of Hackney could become like everywhere else. It’s true in fact as Gardner pointed out the big chains across the road including a Costa, Ted Baker and Urban Outfitters.

Mayor of Hackney, Phillip Glanville one of the main backers of the petition told ELL : “It’s our petition, so signed and fully supportive” and stressed that he hoped to ensure change is carried out.

East end designer Ella Doran told ELL: “It is so short-sighted. I am designing for the well off, but now we are being pushed out for the well off. I want a society that looks out for everyone. We’ve been here for so long why should we be pushed out now?

“So many of us have seen the development and we love it, but it doesn’t mean we should have to leave.”

An emergency meeting is being held next week at 10am Feb 24 at Hackney House, Curtain Road to discuss the possible outcomes of the petition. Many local people will be attending including Gardner and Doran, all hoping of a result that means their livelihood can continue.

“If you tear the heart out of the community there will be nothing left,” Gardner added.

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