CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Town Hall set to keep thousands from Hampstead business levy scheme’s leftover cash

£9,000 spent on lights and tree

03 December, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

A Christmas tree in Oriel Place paid for with BID Money

THOUSANDS of pounds paid to a business levy scheme which was wound up after a traders’ rebellion may be swallowed up by Camden Council, rather than handed back in refunds.

Businesses in the area had been forced to pay the levy in return for improvements to the shopping district, but refuseniks questioned whether they were getting value for money.

But the Hampstead Business District (BID) was wound up weeks before a ballot was due to be held on extending the scheme.

Camden Council has £7,100 of monies paid since April, when it was told by the BID it would be closing down. Officials want it to be absorbed into its general spending budget.

The law says any left over cash must be refunded to businesses, after a “reasonable sum” has been deducted to pay for reimbursement costs, as long as it is more than £5.

Camden Council said it will cost £6,050 in staff hours to return money to 243 businesses, leaving them with just £4.35 each – not meeting the refund threshold.

A spokesperson suggested businesses could suggest projects for it to be spent on, but did not say the money would be set aside.

Separately in its own account, Hampstead BID confirmed it had £15,000 left over after it was closed. It has since been spent on flower baskets, street cleaning, festive lights and a Christmas tree, despite the decision to wind up the BID.

A total of £9,000 was spent on lights as part of a scheme by Conservative councillor Stephen Stark. A message on the tree in Oriel Place thanked members for their support.

According to its accounts from late March, Hampstead Business Improvement District Limited had a surplus of £64,000.

It told the council a month later that it was planning to wind up, ahead of an official announcement in May. The council then started withholding money from the BID, which it now wants to repurpose.

Els Bauer, co-chair of the BID alongside Philip Matthews, told the New Journal remaining money would be spent on more flower baskets and the final £1,000 donated to charity.

She said: “I asked everybody what they wanted to do with the money months ago, to come forward with ideas. Until today [Tuesday], nobody has got in touch directly to say they wanted it back.

“We are still getting invoices in that have to be paid. We want to close it down and for all of this to end, and I want to get on with my life.”

She added: “I have spent 10 years, and an awful amount of hours doing this for businesses that aren’t grateful for anything – for the time that I have spent trying to keep this village nice and clean. I still find it very sad what happened.”

She said full accounts would be uploaded on the website when they are published next year.

Cllr Stark said: “It’s wrong for the money to be kept back. If it was paid when the BID was operating, why didn’t it release the money to them? If the council decides it has to keep the money, then it should be ring-fenced and spent only on projects that businesses want to improve the high street.”

The BID had a turbu­lent spell in Hampstead after being set up in 2016. Caroline Goldsack, who was initially appointed as its chief executive stood down after two years. In response, the BID’s board, made up of business owners in Hampstead hired BID consultancy Primera to run the operation.

Yet more than two years later, and weeks before a ballot was due to be held on whether it should continue, it announced it was pulling the plug on the venture amid rising unpopularity.

The BID’s board has not met since being wound up. Ms Bauer said spending decisions had been taken by members over email and WhatsApp messages.

“We have done everything by email, WhatsApp, by phone,” she said. “We haven’t met but all these decisions have to be approved by everybody on the board.”

Camilla DelMaestro owner of jewellery shop DelMaestro by Camilla in Heath Street, who campaigned against the BID said: “At the point the BID was dissolved they had no right to touch any money that was left over. Whether they think things like Christmas lights or flower baskets are a nice idea, the BID doesn’t exist any more. They should not be spending any money.

She added: “We should know where that money has gone since the accounts in March, because I can’t under­stand from having been here how they have spent nearly all of that £64,000.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “It would take a significant amount of time and resource to make these 243 payments, however even not considering any administration cost, the payment would be very low per account payer – less than £30. This would be a very low amount, and therefore best value for local rate payers may be to seek to get final funds invested in area-based improvements as a result.”

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