Support for town businesses agreed at meeting as row over market reopening continues
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Town councillors say they will pull together to support businesses as they reopen, at a meeting which saw an argument over the return of the town’s food market continue.
Swaffham Town Council met virtually on Wednesday, May 13 to discuss the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, but touched upon issues such as whether the controversial decision to reopen the town’s food market two weeks ago was the right one.
Mayor Jill Skinner began the meeting, followed by a summary of policing figures by town clerk Richard Bishop.
He said: “Generally, Swaffham residents have been good at following the rules, but there has been an increase in rural crime over the lockdown period.
“According to Norfolk Constabulary, this is mainly because people think there is less of a police presence in those areas and that nobody is around to watch them.”
The mainstay of the meeting, however, involved laying out a roadmap for local retailers.
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Independent Breckland district councillor David Wickerson revealed the scale of the district’s pay-outs to businesses.
He said: “Between March and May 6, Breckland Council had distributed £23m to 2,053 businesses - 1,649 of these received £10,000 grants and 404 received £25,000.
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“Seven hundred and forty seven businesses have also been eligible for rates relief equating to £13.6m.
“We’re also expecting additional central government help in the range of £1.5m for Breckland.”
He added that businesses would also be able to claim ‘bounce back loans’ of between £2,000 and £50,000 under a new government initiative aimed at small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
A proposal by councillor Ian Pilcher was also passed, which will see returning market traders receive four free site pitches from the date they return in an effort to support them.
He said: “This is to provide equity across the board, because some food stalls have already returned but watch makers, for example, might not be returning for weeks. To reimpose site charges after a certain date would disadvantage late comers, so this strategy is most appropriate.”
The agreed proviso, however, was that market traders would still need to pay for electricity and gazebo hire, as they would in normal circumstances.
Additionally, it was agreed that a survey would be sent out to independent “brick and mortar businesses” who may find themselves having to implement strict health and safety measures in small units.
Questions would involve asking ‘what the greatest impact on your business has been?’, ‘what support you need to meet health and safety standards?’ and ‘how can the town council and businesses work together on this?’
The idea was the brainchild of Judy Anscombe, who said: “The help we can provide independent businesses won’t necessarily be financial, but we could try and strike deals with the right companies who could potentially offer signs and equipment for a favourable price to make traders’ jobs easier.”
Shirley Matthews agreed that the market and independents were “very much a huge part of our town”.
An argument later erupted over whether the council’s decision to reopen Swaffham’s food market two weeks ago was sensible.
Graham Edwards and Mr Pilcher said that many councillors’ willingness to reopen the market was dependent upon them receiving information about safeguards in advance.
But he said that information was not provided, and the market reopened anyway.
Ms Matthews said the suggestion the market had not been opened with the proper safeguards was “appalling”.
Lindsay Beech repeatedly told Mr Pilcher that “he had lost the vote and should shut up about it”.