Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Cost to businesses of seating licences revamped by council

Cost to businesses of seating licences revamped by council

THE cost of licences for businesses which have outdoor seating in Henley market place is to be changed to a flat rate.

The town council usually makes about £25,000 a year from the licences but because of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of some businesses, this has fallen to £15,750 for the 2021/22 financial year.

Businesses currently pay a different annual fee depending on the size of the seating area used and whether the company is local or national.

Now the council has approved a flat rate of £4,500 a year, which will be brought in from September next year.

This should increase the council’s annual income from the licences by 14 per cent to £31,500.

Businesses including the Bijan’s Kitchen and the Square restaurants and the Arygll pub will have to pay more than the £3,743 that they currently pay for a licence.

However, Starbucks, a multinational coffee shop chain, will pay more than £2,000 less than its current fee of £6,726, which is based on its prime location on the corner of Bell Street and the size of the business.

H Café and Crockers restaurant currently pay £4,542 a year so will be paying slightly less when the new rate is implemented.

The council says the flat rate is fairer and that all the businesses should be treated the same way as they all bring benefits to the town, regardless of size or how local their owners are.

The additional income will also compensate the council for the £11,000 lost as a result of the Business and Planning Act 2020.

This was temporary legislation brought in to help businesses during the pandemic that capped seating licences at £100 until September next year.

Town councillors approved the new rate but said they were disappointed to see Starbucks’ fees decrease. Councillor Kellie Hinton told a meeting of the council’s recreation and amenities committee: “I didn’t want to see the Starbucks fee going down.

“Forget that we are losing £20,000 a year because of this legislation, I really don’t appreciate Starbucks going down because I feel they are in a prime location.

“I feel we should be prioritising our more local establishments. If you have a prime location and you’re a national chain then you should pay more.

“However, we will be £4,000 up a year, which is very good and healthy and I’m happy with that but I do think Starbucks should maybe pay more than the rest.”

Town clerk Sheridan Jacklin-Edwards said it was “very difficult” to agree what was fair and most councils now charged a flat rate.

He said: “The difficulty is, yes, if you’re a national chain and in a prime position, perhaps you should pay more and if you’re local you should pay less but the difficulty is getting that balance and equity.

“For example, what counts as a chain and as an independent. Is H Café a chain or local? Crockers equally has two places so are they a chain or not?

“If we can find suitable wording that allows us to draw that line and make that distinction then fair enough, but we find that most places do flat rates.”

Adel Perseh, a director of Bijan’s Kitchen, said: “We’ve got access to the front of the shop and the square so we pay for two different licences.

“Obviously we disagree with the change in price for seating licences but people come to enjoy the town, sit outside and enjoy the weather so we have to go with it. I think the council is just not helping businesses.”

The cost of the licences was last raised in April 2018 when they went up by five per cent. A year later, the council hoped to increase prices by 2.7 per cent, in line with inflation, but some councillors were worried about the effect another rise would have on businesses so the proposal was thrown out.

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