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Elgin shopkeeper in court for refusing to pay town centre levy

David Cairns
David Cairns

A Moray shopkeeper is being taken to court over a £180 bill for being a member of a group he never wanted to join.

David Cairns is adamant he will not pay what he described as the “Soviet-style” levy to the Elgin Bid organisation.

It was set up in 2009 as part of a drive to lure more shoppers to the region’s biggest town.

Of the 450 businesses balloted on whether the group should be created, just under half voted, with 75% of those giving their backing to the project.

Bur Mr Cairns, who runs Baggs of Elgin, claims many small firms are not getting value for money in return for the mandatory fees they have to pay.

He said: “There’s a principle involved and that’s why I have put my head above the parapet and am in court.

“The fees charged are effectively a stealth tax on small business.

“What’s more, it’s not democratic. In fact, I would call it Soviet in the way it goes about things.

“I will admit that the Food Days that Bid organised attracted more shoppers into the town, but such events are few and far between.

“Bigger companies who own their own properties have benefited because they’ve been able to get grants to do them up.

“But why should companies like mine, who have to rent, be subsidising all this?”

A vote on whether to extend Elgin Bid’s role for another five years is just weeks away.

The levy paid by each individual company varies depending on their rateable value, with larger firms having to pay more.

Mr Cairns, whose store is in the St Giles shopping centre, is currently being pursued for two annual charges of £90.

These relate to 2010-11 and the following business year.

A hearing at Elgin Sheriff Court yesterday centred on the value of items in his shop, which was visited by sheriff’s officers earlier in the year.

They seized stock in lieu of payment.

The proceedings were adjourned and the case will return to court in a fortnight.

Since its creation, Elgin Bid has helped attract £1.7million from the Scottish Government Town Centre Regeneration Fund, plus another £3.3million to restore older buildings on or near the High Street.

An Elgin Bid spokeswoman said: “We are proud to have an average payment rate in excess of 94%.

“We encourage and attempt to work with all Bid members. However, some of our members exercised their right to vote against the Bid company and have chosen not to get involved in activities.

“While we completely respect their rights, we are obliged to follow due process where businesses chose not to pay their levy and pursue payment.”

There was controversy before the scheme began its operations.

When Tesco refused to pay an annual contribution of £25,000, the geographical boundaries were redrawn so that the retail giant’s store on Blackfriars Road was no longer considered to be within the town centre.

Councillor John Cowe, the chairman of the Moray Economic Partnership set up to try to diversify the region’s economy, gave his backing to Elgin Bid.

He said last night: “I am a big supporter of it and all the hard work that it does to try to attract more shoppers and vibrancy to the town centre.”

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