Keeping Money in the City: a local levy on giant supermarkets
“a classic example of trendy politics colliding with reality “ according to Gary Hopkins, but his Evening Post comment was more like a classic case of party point-scoring colliding with reality. Maybe he feels his role in the LibDem group is being challenged
Gary was dismissing the proposal brought to last Tuesday's council by the Green group – and, on the day, roundly rejected by the other parties .
Had the other councillors accepted it, and if broad support could be shown from other councils and civic groups across the country, it would have strengthened the chances of a request to government to let councils (if they think fit) impose an 8.5% levy on the business rates payable by certain large retailers on their patch – particularly supermarkets. Government could not reject the suggestion out of hand – it must first negotiate with the Local Government Association. All being well, it would ultimately lead to the law makers allowing councils this limited discretion to raise money for public use from some of the most destructive of retailers.
Complicated, that. Clearly too complicated for Gary's LibDems, for Labour, and, of course, for the Tories. Too complicated for the council officers charged with providing an objective report to the council. And far too complicated for the Bristol Post.
Together, they rewrote the story. It became, in their view, a proposal that Bristol should now impose an 8.5% levy on all its big shops. That would send out a message that Bristol is unfriendly to business. It would induce all such shops to abandon their lucrative trade in Bristol. The poor would be then unable to buy cheap food. Even if the shops remained, the poor would pick up the tab at the tills.
Only one small part of this gross distortion did have a rationale of sorts. The council cannot at present distinguish between the 'comparison' retailers like B&Q or Harvey Nichols (not that the poor would find they'd lost much there) and the prime target, the huge and profitable food supermarket businesses.
But anyone who'd looked at the real proposal (and 'Local Works', which had prompted it) would know that legislation would be needed. That's where a distinction between the business types could be written in. It was a non-objection. And the rest was pure invention.
Fortunately, not all councils, or parties, are as blinkered as Bristol's. In Gloucester and in Torbay, it's been the LibDems who are making the running (Gary please note). In Leeds, with an overwhelming Labour majority, a similar proposal was passed with cross-party support. In Liverpool, though, it was Labour who took the supermarkets' side and killed it off
Of course, there's no reason to think that the ill-informed debate at Tuesday's meeting, with councillors voting en bloc along with their parties, reflects public opinion. It doesn't even establish council policy. It's still within the mayor's powers to sound out real public opinion, and if he can show that people would like the option of a levy, he can join other councils in seeking powers from government. That's how the Sustainable Communities Act works – by encouraging initiatives from the grass roots, to complement the usual centralist 'top-down' legislative structures.
But how to show George that Bristolians think councils should be given this power?
Writing to Mayor Ferguson is one option – you can draw on the information on the Local Works pages.
The quickest way, though, is to sign up to Charlie Bolton's petition on the council website.