Businesses in Whitby are up in arms over the introduction of a new scheme designed to bring wealth to the local area which they, themselves, will have to fund.
The Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District (BID) was voted in last Friday by a majority of 55%.
The scheme aims to raise £5 million over the next five years to invest in marketing and general improvements in the towns along the coast.
However, those who will be effectively paying to receive the improvements are the towns’ businesses.
On top of their usual rents and business rates, restaurants, shops and accommodation providers with a rateable value of £12,000 and above will have to pay an annual mandatory levy equating to 1.5% of that value.
Although businesses were given the chance to cast their vote, the turnout for the postal ballot was only 29.17% meaning that of the 1,354 ballots sent out only 392 (217 ‘yes’ and 175 ‘no’) were filled out.
The Duke of York on Church Street is among those who voted ‘no’. Ye,t it will still be required to pay.
Manager Greig Cowie said: “It’s just outrageous. Turnout was a tiny percentage which goes to show that people haven’t understood what they [the council] were doing.
“This thing has been completely mismanaged. They sent out ballot papers that looked like leaflets and people were just binning them thinking it was advertising. They were not aware of what they were.”
Concerns were also raised on the levy itself, which many see as another tax which will see businesses like Mr Cowie’s pay an extra £1,500 to £2,000 each year.
He added: “It’s just something that’s being forced on us. Our rates have gone up, minimum wage is going up. We’ve got around 30 staff and we want to keep people in jobs but it’s getting to the point where there’s no point in opening.”
Attracting criticism is not only the requirement to pay into the scheme. People also feel that the money collected will not be spent effectively.
Tim Gray, owner of The Blitz, said: “I’ve been involved in this kind of things before and from experience I can say that it’s always the same few people that are going to benefit from it. It’s disgusting.
“They’re going to create jobs and employ people that we don’t need. It’s a waste of time and there’s a lot of people in Whitby who feel this way.”
John Freeman, owner of an art gallery on Market Place added: “When you look at how they’re going to spend this money, 26% will go to advertising and promotion. The last thing we need in Whitby is more publicity.
“14-17% will go towards administration costs and 3% will go to the council for collecting the money so nearly 50% has already gone before you’ve even started.
“To me, that’s not value for money.”
Last month Whitby Town Council also voted against the scheme with one councillor saying the levy was an ‘unfair imposition’ on local businesses.
Speaking after the result of the vote was announced last week, BID director Clive Rowe-Evans said: “I am obviously thrilled and now looking forward to moving ahead with forming the BID company and then getting on with the proposals that are in the BID proposal and getting the benefits for the Levy payers as quickly as possible. Hopefully within the next six months.
“[The turnout] is obviously disappointing we can’t deny that but what was encouraging was that we got 55% of those who did turnout supporting the BID.
“If you look at BIDs around the country the turnout has been around at this sort of level.”
Businesses in Whitby who rejected the scheme are now trying to come together to object to the levy.