Angry businesses call for second vote over controversial Great Yarmouth tourism tax
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Furious traders are demanding a second ballot to be held over a controversial tourism tax as they question the legality of the levy.
Businesses across the borough are up in arms over the Greater Yarmouth tourism BID, which they say they knew nothing about until a hefty bill landed at their door.
The scheme is expected to raise about £500,000 a year by charging a levy to businesses deemed to have stake in tourism directly or indirectly.
It was rubberstamped after a vote in May. But angry business owners are now calling for the ballot to be re-taken as they say scores of firms did not know they had the chance to vote either for, or against, it.
Mandi Wilks has run Big Guys Menswear on Northgate Street for over 14 years and is now taking legal advice about how the scheme has been brought in and how the vote has been run.
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She said: 'I think what they have done is very, very underhand. The way the whole thing has been set up it's extortionate.
'The minimum we want is a second ballot. There's supposed to have been four lots of paperwork [delivered before the BID was brought in]; most of us involved have never received any of this.'
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Since bills began dropping onto door mats several business owners have said they will not pay the tax and would face a court hearing instead.
Richard Coller, managing director of Yarmouth car dealership Pertwee and Back, is among those who has said he would rather go to jail then hand over the cash, and claimed 80pc of businesses did not know about the scheme.
'The town businesses have been ripped apart by this BID because they never knew and never got a chance to vote,' he added. 'It's got to be re-voted on, it's the only fair way forward.
'You're going to have 80pc of the businesses in Yarmouth queuing up to go through the courts.'
Phil Thompson, who runs Better Furniture in Southtown Road and owns Regent Road indoor market, said his customers had also been shocked by the bill.
He added: 'It's not about not paying it's about why should we pay when it's so underhanded?
'I have got 40 tenants down here [in the indoor market] and the bowling alley and not one of us have received a letter, all we received was bills.'
Around 1,200 businesses across the borough, with a rateable value of more than £2,500, are legally obliged to pay into the BID, which promises better events, marketing and investment for Yarmouth and, in turn, higher employment.
BID chairman David Marsh said despite complaints many businesses were in favour of the scheme and more than £50,000 had already been received in levies. And he ruled out any chance of a re-vote as he said to do so would be breaking the law.
'A re-vote isn't on the table, we don't have a choice. It's laid down in law, it would be illegal to have a re-vote,' he added.
'There's also a cost to the whole process of getting the BID. It cost about £30,000 and the vote, we had to pay for it, was £5,000. We did everything we should have done.'
Mr Marsh acknowledged some frustration was to be expected when the bills started going out but welcomed businesses with questions to attend the formal BID launch next Tuesday, which firms had been invited to.
The tourism BID is separate from the Great Yarmouth town centre BID which is being overseen by the Town Centre Partnership.