East End businesses rally to stop rate hikes

The day before the Budget, a trio of business owners gathered outside 10 Downing Street carrying tote bags emblazoned with the logo of the East End Trades Guild.

Paul Gardner, owner of Gardners Bags, a 147-year old business on Commercial Street, pulled a paper bag hat on his head and stood beside Sarah Haque, owner of Urban Species, a printed merchandise business. Beside her stood Len Maloney, in his blue overalls. Maloney is the owner of JC Motors, a car repair shop under the railway arches in Haggerston.

The three have been united by the Guild. They gathered outside the Prime Minister’s residence to hand in a petition of nearly 11,000 signatures opposing an increase in business rates due to be announced the following day in the Budget.

From April, the Government plans to revalue business rates for small businesses based on property values, which have more than doubled in some parts of London.

Hackney is the most severely affected borough, with an average rate rise of 46 per cent. This puts many small businesses at risk.

The rateable value of Gardners Bags will rise from £18,000 to £40,500 under the proposals. “I think I’d just have to pull the shutters down,” said Paul Gardner after the photo.

Gardner was the founding member of the Guild when it was set up five years ago, but said it had been revitalised in the last year when it members’ dues provided for a salary for its first full time staff organiser, Krissie Nicolson.

“The East End Trades Guild has been going a few years now through thick and thin, but I think we’re getting stronger all the time. We proved that in the last couple of weeks with all the signatures we’ve got for for this petition,” Gardner said.

Len Maloney joined the Guild last year after his landlord, TfL, threatened a rent increase that would put him out of business. “Krissie got in touch with me after I joined. I said whatever you want me to do, I’m ready,” he said. “I never imagined I’d be doing this!”

Nicolson watched as the business owners, joined by Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and Philip Glanville, the Mayor of Hackney, filed past the cast iron gates and posed for more photos outside the door of number 10, before delivering their petition.

Nicolson was hopeful after reports that the Chancellor might give some relief to London business, even if he fell short of meeting the Guild’s demand to devolve the setting of business rates to the London mayor’s office. “You never know, but I’m fairly sure they will do something,” she said.

Hillier said the alternative was unthinkable. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of Hackney and these rate rises are unsustainable. There’s no way they can weather the cost,” she said.

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