Local Government Minister Bob Neill has today written to Camden Council's leader urging him to reconsider the decision to not grant the People's Supermarket, a social enterprise initiative, a not-for-profit business rate discount.
The People's Supermarket is a sustainable food cooperative working within a local area providing healthy, local food at reasonable prices. The supermarket caught the nation's attention in a Channel 4 documentary and was praised by the Prime Minister as a shining example of the Big Society when he visited it.
It has come to light that Camden Council has decided not to grant the People's Supermarket non-profit rate relief and that it served the premises with a court order for non-payment of a £33,500 rates bill, on top of £6000 already paid off, before taking a decision on its discretionary relief application.
Councils have a discretionary power to grant business rate relief of up to one hundred per cent for properties occupied by not for profit organisations. The decision to award this kind of relief is legally one only the council can make. When such a decision is made government meets 75 per cent of the cost.
Bob Neill said:
"The People's Supermarket is great example of a sustainable food co-operative providing healthy local food at reasonable prices and is an inspiration to other co-operatives around the country.
"I have written to Camden Council to ask it to reconsider its decision not to grant the non-profit rate relief. There is a clear public benefit from the People's Supermarket to the local community and a broader public interest in promoting co-operatives and the Big Society.
"I am concerned that Camden's actions could undermine this important Big Society initiative."
Section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 provides a discretionary power for local authorities to grant rate relief, of up to 100 per cent, in respect of a non-domestic property occupied by certain bodies not established or conducted for profit. Where such discretionary rate relief is granted, central government automatically picks up 75 per cent of the cost and the remaining 25 per cent is borne by the local authority.
Camden has form in seeking to undermine the Big Society.