A group of businesses in Northampton are calling for a fresh vote on the town centre’s Business Improvement District - after some claimed they had not been sent ballot forms back in 2015 and others said they did not know a ‘yes’ vote would see a levy imposed.
A total of 99 town firms were summonsed to magistrates’ court for not paying their BID levy back on December 1 and a hearing yesterday saw the companies put forward a defence for not paying up.
Speaking on behalf of the 99 firms, the owner of Maria’s Coffee and Cake in The Drapery, Maria Kruposova, said: “Many of us were not aware of the ballot. The first time we heard about it was when we got bills, or a summons.”
Mrs Kruposova even claimed “not one” independent business in The Drapery received a ballot paper for the vote in October 2015. Of those that did, she said, the ballot literature did not make it clear a “yes” vote would result in a levy being imposed.
She added the 99 firms – roughly an eighth of all the companies in the BID area – are intending to write to the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, to ask for a re-ballot under law.
Mrs Kruposova claimed many owners she spoke to would have voted against the BID – a move which she said could have affected the outcome of the 2015 vote. Last year, BID’s activities included putting on the Easter Extravaganza street entertainment and the Discover Northampton Artist Trail.
The BID also provided a street cleaning machine and window vinyls to improve the look of vacant stores in the town centre among a host of other things.
But Mrs Kruposova said some companies were not paying out of principal due to concerns about BID’s tendering process.
Companies House shows the BID has given a total of £49,000 to a Guildhall Road printing company called Tangerine Red over the past six years – owned by BID chair Jessica D’Aulerio.
It also gave Gavin Willis Creative Marketing Limited £35,589 in the 2015/16 financial year. Mr Willis is also classed as a director for Northampton BID.
The money for both firms paid for, among other things, the printing of window vinyls, a renewal of the BID website, as well as the design and print of more than 100,000 glossy magazines.
A spokeswoman for Northampton BID, has defended its tendering process saying: “These two (firms) were cheaper than other quotes obtained for particular jobs and demonstrated good value for money in accordance with our procurement policy.”
However the ballot is administered by Northampton Borough Council, not Northampton BID.
A spokesperson from Northampton Borough Council said: "The ballot in October 2015 was conducted in accordance with regulations established by Government.
"Ballot papers were sent to all town centre businesses then responsible for the rates on premises to which the proposed levy would apply - 847 ballot papers were issued and 260 were returned, with 61 per cent in favour of the BID's proposals."
The court case was adjourned until March 31.