Tory-run West Sussex County Council has been challenged to abandon plans to continue to impose a tax on businesses in West Sussex with tables and chairs on the highways, as Labour councillors from West Sussex joined together to present a community petition with approximately 3,000 signatures to the council, as the Cabinet Member for Highways prepares to make a decision on the subject.
West Sussex caused significant outrage last year when without warning, it sent out notice letters across the county demanding that local businesses, including cafes and restaurants, pay a flat fee of £520 a year for a licence to put their tables and chairs on the pavements outside their units, regardless of how many seats were outside. Labour councillors later discovered this was on a par with what was being charged to equivalent businesses in London’s West End!
- This development provoked a significant campaign from the community and inspired Labour councillors from across West Sussex to launch a petition against the move.
- The petition was spearheaded by local Adur District and Worthing Borough Labour councillors Lavinia O’Connor (Southlands) and Mike Barrett (Selden).
- Other community action included traders and local residents holding a “sit down” protest in Littlehampton town centre to highlight the unfairness of the sudden proposals from the county council, which seemed to have very little justification other than to provide income otherwise starved from the council by Tory cutbacks to local government funding.
- Following the uproar, a brief consultation took place in February this year where a revised proposal was put forward changing the arrangement to £20 per year, per seat, with a £150 one-off application fee.
The petition was presented on Wednesday afternoon and Cllr Barrett was joined by Labour county councillors Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) and Karen Sudan (Northgate and West Green) in sharing their support for the petitioners as he presented it to the Cabinet Member for Highways Roger Elkins (Con, East Preston and Ferring).
Mr Elkins is set to make a decision soon after the proposals were nodded through by the Tories and Lib Dem councillors at the relevant scrutiny committee last week.
This intervention at this time, by presenting the petition is designed to make the Cabinet Member think again. When the 3,000 or so signatures are verified by council officials, West Sussex County Council is obliged to refer the petition under its petition scheme to a debate at the forthcoming full council meeting where the petitioners’ calls must be considered by all county councillors.
Worthing Borough Councillor Mike Barrett, after presenting the petition, said:
“Labour councillors across the county have consistently spoken against the introduction of this charge, on any basis. This is not something you should be doing to these small and medium sized businesses who have tight enough margins without the county council inventing new charges.
“This is an unfair charge that does not take into account whether the business is a sole trader or a big multinational like Costa or Starbucks. We have too many small businesses, particularly along the coast, who simply don’t need this extra expense. The fact it wasn’t charged for over two decades makes it even more unacceptable that the county council is trying to resurrect it.
“The Tories have to listen, they are simply hurting local businesses in a totally unjustifiable way.”
Labour county councillor and Group Leader at West Sussex Michael Jones agreed with Councillor Barrett, adding:
“I appreciate the county council has financial pressures, particularly with regards to Highways. We all know this. But it is not right that the council invents these things as an excuse to get more money out of people. It is little more than a cynical revenue raising wheeze and in the present economic climate it could prove disastrous for these local businesses. It is not their fault that the Tory Government isn’t giving the council the money it needs and the council has no right in taking it out on them.
“This petition which the traders and councillors organised has nigh on three thousand signatures calling on the council to abandon these charges. We believe they should not be ignored and it will be pretty disgraceful if they are.”