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Long-standing business Toni & Guy 'driven out' of Wolverhampton city centre due to roadworks

A business has been "driven out" of Wolverhampton after 20 years of trading due to long-standing roadworks and a lack of support by council bosses.

The former Toni & Guy building
The former Toni & Guy building

Toni and Guy, on Victoria Street, closed its doors on November 26 after 23 years in the city due to a drop in trade caused by pedestrianisation works.

Gavin Thomas, who ran the franchise with business partner Rebecca Thomas for the last five years, estimated revenue had dropped around 45 per cent.

But his pleas for help to Wolverhampton Council to secure help as the "financial noose" tightened were ignored and the business closed down last year.

And he has now been informed he will not be eligible for a support payment for the roadworks, which caused the business to close, due to no longer trading.

The Express & Star understands that at least six businesses have closed down since the start of the works, with a number of others said to be on the brink.

Mr Thomas said: "I would say we were down around 45 per cent on our turnover, based on an educated guess. We prepared the information the council requested and they came back, after a ridiculously long time, to say we have lost turnover – and then they dragged their feet.

"We started to get into difficulties and I spoke to the council and explained we needed help because the financial noose was tightening and they didn't do anything – and we closed down in November.

"It wasn't a hard decision (to close) because it had been made for us. It was a sad day because it's been in Victoria Street for a very long time."

An email from Wolverhampton Council's head of enterprise seen by the Express & Star said the purpose for awarding financial support was to "assist businesses to continue to trade" in the city – and Toni & Guy was not entitled to help as the business had closed. The correspondence saw Mr Thomas say the business had "failed due to the actions of the council" and called for a rethink of the policy.

Council bosses have since reiterated the payments are to support businesses and there is no legal obligation to make them, with it being a "discretionary goodwill gesture" and business must be trading to receive it due to it being public money.

"I was appalled and disgusted to get that email," the 51-year-old said. "It makes you think 'were they holding off until we've gone, so they wouldn't have to pay out?' – that's what a cynical person would think.

"They've pretended to be very nice but when push comes to shove, they did nothing and that email was just appalling. There was no apology, just simply 'you're not eligible, thank you very much'.

"It's really unfair but I can't see for one moment they are going to go back on what they've decided now. I think there was a statement saying they're doing 'everything they can' to work with traders to stop this from happening and that's clearly not the case."

The former franchisee, who is originally from Sedgley, said he was after a letter from the authority to confirm they would receive compensation which they could hand to their creditors but they wouldn't provide it.

"I really don't know what their mindset is. They are spending money to make Victoria Street attractive and one of the most attractive businesses in that street they've let go of. You would think a town centre would want to have a Toni and Guy," he said.

Mr Thomas added another Toni and Guy, which the pair ran, had been forced to close in Walsall because of a council decision. "We moved to Wolverhampton and now it's happened again – the council, in their wisdom, has driven another business away."

A spokesman for Wolverhampton Council said: "We understand the challenges businesses face which is why we’ve been having conversations with traders throughout the works. As part of those conversations the business told us they were unlikely to renew their lease due to a number of factors, including those affecting businesses up and down the country.

"The payments we are making are not compensation payments, they are business support payments. There is no legal obligation to make them but we are doing so as a discretionary goodwill gesture. Before Christmas a number of businesses received initial support payments and independent experts are continuing to work to identify impact. Unfortunately, as this is public money businesses must be continuing to trade in the area to receive support.

"We will continue to work with affected businesses as we complete this £15.7m investment of Future High Street and Council funding in the much-needed regeneration of the west side of the city centre. It will transform the area, increase footfall and boost the local economy."

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