Great Yarmouth business improvement district battle turns into a whodunnit
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015
A report which gives a clean bill of health to the way a tourism tax was established in Great Yarmouth has failed to satisfy angry campaigners.
The group of traders, who are calling for a re-run of last May's ballot which approved a new borough-wide business improvement district (BID), claims many businesses never received ballot papers or information about the initiative and that the results of the vote were not published in accordance with regulations.
The second point is crucial to any chances of them launching a successful appeal to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) because the rules stipulate it must be made within 28 days of publication.
A borough council investigation, published this week, has concluded staff at the Electoral Reform Service and BID consultants Mosaic fully complied with a timeline for sending out ballot papers and that the addresses of the 1,274 businesses targeted for the levy were correctly taken from the 2013 business rates listing, and the number of ballot papers matched the number on the listing.
With regard to publication of the result, it says the council was advised the formal result - meeting regulations - was published on the BID website and this had been confirmed by Mosaic; a press release giving the result went on the council's website.
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Lisa Marshall, a leader of Great Yarmouth For a Fair BID Vote and director of Better Furniture, said: 'I am furious upon reading this report which completely disregards the statement by around 200 local business people who have signed our petition to confirm that they did not receive the ballot papers or any communication prior to the invoice.'
She said the final paragraph suggesting traders were simply concerned with the size of the bill rather than ensuring a fair and democratic ballot was 'defamatory'.
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The report's finding that no ballot papers were returned to ERS - something that would be expected from any mailshot, especially when it was admitted that 122 names were incorrect due to a change of occupier since the date of the business rates listing – supported their case that mailing had not been carried out correctly.
Mrs Marshall said: 'With regard to the publication of the result, we have asked for the evidence and no-one has given it to us. We have searched the internet and found no evidence it was published on the BID website – until it suddenly appeared there on January 24.'
David Marsh, interim chairman of the BID board, maintained the ballot result had been published on the borough council website and also appeared on the BID website as a click through from its front page under the banner 'Great Yarmouth votes YES'.
A spokesman for DCLG said: 'We are considering the representations made by the traders and will respond as soon as possible.'