Wolverhampton traders up in arms over huge rent rises - with VIDEO
Huge rent increases, VAT charges and insecure contracts - traders in Wolverhampton city centre have slammed the council over what they say are new measures aimed at pushing them out.
Dozens of traders from along Cleveland Street in the city have spoken out against the council after they received a letter telling them their rents are to increase, that they are to pay a new charge and be given a new contract.
The letter told business owners that their rents are to increase while they will also have to pay 20 per cent VAT charge as well as be issued with new business contracts with the council.
The independent shop owners believe that the measures are aimed at giving them no alternative but to shut up shop and leave the city centre as the council works to redevelop other areas.
Claire Howell, owner of Vinyl and Vintage was shocked to be visited by a council official who told her of the 52 per cent increase in rent that was first demanded as well as additional charges.
She said: "I'm gobmacked to be honest. A lady came in and said that the rent for us would increase by 52 per cent. We managed to negotiate down to 35 per cent but this still means that instead of paying £3,500 a year we will pay £9,000 a year instead. Then they have opted in for us to pay VAT at 20 per cent on top of that.
"It's upsetting really because this is a really multi-cultural street in the city, showing how different people can work together.
"We have worked hard to build up our business over the past five years and this undermines it all.
"It shows that the council is all about money now - this is an optional charge of VAT they are bringing in to businesses that aren't VAT registered."
The new contracts offered by the council also have not pleased business owners.
Claire continued: "The new contract gives us no security whatsoever. Though we sign it for years they could throw us out after 12 months without warning.
"I'm in disbelief over it all to be honest."
Each business along the street has been told of their specific changes in rent and of the additional VAT charge, meaning that each business is paying an individual sum.
Restaurant Salska on the street was initially asked for an increase of 122 per cent. It's original rent of £5,400 would increase to £10,000 plus VAT. The owners negotiated on a rent payment of £7,500 plus VAT - an increase of 67 per cent.
Vita Liutkute, aged 26 of Redditch, runs Restaurant Salska. She said: "I didn't even have a contract from the council. We have been running the business here for three years. It's only because I rang them up that a lady came down, had a look around and then told us the rent would increase and we'd have to pay VAT.
"I was surprised that she was able to just tell me there and then that it would go up so much and that there would be more to pay on top.
"I can already anticipate that we will struggle to pay wages and make profit with this increase. I don't think we will close down or move because we've spent so much time decorating the place and building up the business.
"The new contract they have given us means we can be kicked out in a year if the council want us to leave. It just means that you wake up not knowing what the future will bring - you never feel secure. But what choice do we have?"
Traders feel that the increases are coming at the worst possible time - when the market is relocating, Metro works are being carried out and bus routes are changing out of the city centre.
Aida Burleviciene, aged 47 of Lanesfield, is the owner of beauty salon Grožio Salonas Medinės Šukos and has been in the centre for almost five years.
Aida said: "I wouldn't mind paying the money if the council actually did anything for us. They told us when we moved in that they would sort all the issues with the upstairs windows. It's still not been done - it's freezing up there.
"I think they just want us to shut down. It's taken us five years to build up the business and now they're looking to take it all away from us."
Sharon Dhir, managing director of Property Lounge Limited said: "We are one of the most long-standing businesses along Cleveland Street. We were based further down the street for four years and have been here now for two.
"It doesn't feel like we are valued at all by the council. I rang them up to ask whether we could freeze the charges or something to help businesses but they said they couldn't.
"It just means that we're being priced out while the council look to do whatever they want to do. It's even quieter here since the market moved so there's even less footfall around here for us. The council should be helping to improve things for businesses like ours."