Traders seek MP’s support over ’boom’ in charity shops

Written by Peter Davison.

Alex MinoudisAlex MinoudisMarlborough traders have implored MP Claire Perry to step in over the ‘boom’ in charity shops in historic Marlborough High Street.

The appeal comes as another of the town’s independent traders – Kitchenmonger – closes its doors to be replaced by a branch of Cancer Research UK (see Marlborough News Online February 10).

The letter, written by Marlborough Chamber of Commerce president Alex Minoudis in his guise as acting chairman of Marlborough Town Team, says independent traders are finding it hard to compete, and urges action from the government.

Mr Minoudis cites “Unacceptable levels of business rates – the second highest in the county”, the “unfair advantage” enjoyed by charity shops in the form of 80 percent relief from business rates, and the fact that their stock comes mainly via donations as reasons why charity shops are faring better than independent retailers – and can occupy prime positions in a High Street once the envy of other market towns.

“In the last couple of weeks we have watched scaffolding erected around the former Kitchenmonger, which will soon emerge as our town’s eighth charity shop,” Mr Minoudis wrote.

“More and more, these have squeezed out and taken the place of our independent shops; those not able to meet high property prices, rents, and business rates. A disappointing loss.

“The independents cannot hope to have access to good High Street locations when charities are able to pay the high rents charged in Marlborough,” he continued.

“In spite of these shops being the fastest growing in the retail sector, there appears to be no changes planned for discretionary business rate relief to charity shops, and it’s been protected for the last couple of years.

“The rates system ratchets up each year and hasn’t responded to changes in the market, including the domination of internet sales. Will there be a proper review of the system?”

Marlborough Town Team was established last year to create a Business Improvement District for the town. A BID allows towns to raise extra revenue from all businesses in the form of a business rates levy, so long as a majority agree to it.

Rather than business rates, which are collected by Wiltshire Council but go straight into Whitehall coffers to be distributed elsewhere, every penny from the BID goes back to the community where it was raised, to pay for initiatives ranging from marketing campaigns and tourism drives to Christmas lights and signage.

But Mr Minoudis points out that despite the economic upturn, a less-than-bouyant independent retail sector could scupper the town’s BID ambitions.

“With the independents feeling the effects of high rents, high business rates, and what they see as unfair competition from charity shops, they may be reluctant to pay more,” he wrote.

“It may be difficult to persuade them otherwise.”