Clapham Town Ward Councillor Christopher Wellbelove spoke at last week's Full Council on the motion to protect Lambeth's businesses from huge business rate rises. The council's motion was supported by all Labour councillors but opposed by the Conservatives.
I had hoped that this motion would have cross-party support today as I am sure that all of us here realise the importance of encouraging and nurturing small businesses in our borough, which is essential to building a sustainable and vibrant community that we all want to live and work in.
As the Conservative government plays Russian Roulette with the future of the British Economy by forcing us down the road of a hard Brexit that was not voted for - and certainly not by the people of Lambeth - it is of no surprise to hear from businesses that the huge increases in business rates could not come at a worse time.
After years of facing increasing rents from landlords, including Lambeth where pressures from government cuts are forcing us to look for other ways to raise money, these additional pressures by the government with huge increases in business rates are threatening the future of many businesses in Clapham and across Lambeth.
At a recent meeting of the Clapham Business Improvement District, there was a large turnout by businesses to hear about how the increases will affect them. There was clear concern from many on how their businesses will survive with many saying the increases are more than they can afford.
There has also been a number of strange judgements, for example the cost of retail space per square foot is now higher in the Old Town than on the high street, despite footfall being significantly lower. We have already lost some great small businesses in the Old Town, we do not want the Old Town and high street just full of estates agents - which have already increased in number since the Tories changed the planning laws.
To protect our local businesses and enterprises we need the council to support area wide appeals, supporting our Bids who are already working hard to support their businesses and minimise the impact of the business rate increase.
We all understand the need to increase revenue to help us pay for essential services, especially in light of the Conservative Government’s failed austerity policy. But does all the money from business rates stay in Lambeth? No. Whilst we collect the money 50% goes to central Government, 20% to the GLA and only 30% is retained by Lambeth. And following the increase will we get more money? No. Not a penny. Businesses get a bill from Lambeth with a massive increase but the government will take it all. We need to make sure they know who is to blame.
Once again the Tories are using local authorities to do their dirty work. However I hope that in seeing this motion and by being part of our campaign, businesses across the borough will know we are on their side.
Unfortunately, those businesses don't have the support of the Lambeth Conservatives, who voted against our motion. This is despite the claims on their website that they want to support the local economy and that businesses taxes are already too high. Sadly, they failed to stand up to their Tory colleagues in Westminster who once again are ignoring the impact of their policies on areas like Lambeth.
For civil servants and accountants the changes are just numbers on spreadsheets. For small businesses the changes could be the difference between survival or bankruptcy. There are real life consequences from this government policy. People, many of whom are our constituents, facing losing their businesses, their jobs, their livelihoods. By threatening a core part of where we live, the Conservative government is once again gambling with the future of our communities.