Perhaps the most positive thing to come out of the recent battle of Tesco’s application to build a superstore in the middle of Hadleigh was the consensus in the town and surrounding villages that a giant supermarket, with remote shareholders and little commitment to local purchasing, would not be good for the economy of the area.
This is the reason that one of the first things I did on becoming Babergh’s first Green Party councillor, was to propose a motion at the council asking the government for new powers to levy extra business rates on superstores of rateable value of more than £500,000. A levy of 8.5% of rateable value say, would amount to an extra £670,000 from the six biggest retail units in the district, including Morrisons in Hadleigh. That is a significant amount for Babergh but less than half a per cent of the turnover for the big stores in the district who mostly rake in at least £10 million a year. The idea that this levy would affect their business in any way is laughable.
Independent Shops Before Giant Chains
Small, independent shopkeepers contribute far more to the local economy than giant stores. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses shows that 50p in every pound spent in an independent shop is returned to the local economy, compared to just 5p from the supermarkets.
Yet despite this extra contribution small traders make to our economy, they are made to pay a far higher proportion of their turnover as business rates than the superstores. The supermarket levy would have gone some way to redress this balance.
Cross party Support
My motion was bravely seconded by Conservative councillor Jenny Antill, and had the support of Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce and of Penny Wilby, who acts for many independent shops under “ThebestofSudbury” banner.
How sad it was then, that on the day, the acting chairman of the council – Liberal Democrat Kathy Pollard – decided to defer the motion without debate to strategy committee. She apparently has the discretion to do this under the new constitution. This is unfortunate since it gives the appearance that political leaders in Babergh do not want an open debate on the subject. However I will be allowed to present the idea to that committee and will be pressing them to get on with a decision.
But the lack of open debate is worrying. Babergh has several councillors who were elected because people know they are prepared to speak from their own consciences rather than trot out the party line. We need and deserve to hear their views. A full council meeting was cancelled in July apparently on the grounds that there was no business to discuss. If only that were true. There is the small matter of a £1million surplus from last year that has been put into a pot labelled “strategic priorities”. Babergh is about to build several dozen new council houses for the first time. Hurray! Perhaps some of that surplus could be invested in making the council homes “low energy” or “passivhauses” ensuring that tenants have tiny heating bills and the council a more secure rental income.