A community project which encouraged the use of empty shops in Bedford was slapped with a court threat if it didn’t stump up a business levy.
The We Are Bedford project, which is run by Kayte Judge, opened a pop-up shop in Mill Street for eight weekends from September last year.
The shop hosted a variety of not-for-profit events including an art exhibition and a local artists drawing workshop.
But Kayte was shocked to receive a letter from Bedford Business Improvement District (BedfordBID), threatening court action if the group did not pay £50 in levy fees.
She said: “We didn’t charge people to take part and we didn’t sell anything. We actually put on the scheme to get rid of the last bit of funding and end the We Are Bedford project on a high.
“We really tried to make the best possible use of our funding and if we had known there was going to be a £50 bill we would have accounted for that.
“I’m not anti-BedfordBID but the town centre needs to innovate and bureaucracy can put barriers in the way of innovation. If people are to be encouraged to try new things a bit of flexibility would be helpful.”
Dan Thompson, who founded the national Empty Shops Network. stepped in to pay the fee. But Kayte claimed that, although BedfordBID’s hands are tied, more should be done to encourage people to set up their own projects in the future.
She said: “It was really nice that people wanted to contribute to the fee and saw the value in the stuff we have done.
“The BedfordBID has given us support and sponsorship for past projects and have been very generous, they were also on the panel for the bursary for the pop-up shop and were involved.
“I have spoken to business owners who have varying views and the blue caps seem to be a good idea as well as the voucher scheme.”
A spokesman for BedfordBID, said: “BedfordBID helped We Are Bedford put their case to the council regarding not having to pay business rates on the unit they occupied on the basis they were a charity.
“However, legislation which governs the way in which Business Improvement Districts are run means that charities have to pay any BID levy alongside other retailers.
“We had been told that the £50 debt has been paid to the council which is the collection agency.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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