Helping our High Street

There has been a significant impact on local businesses over the last year due to closures imposed under covid-19 lockdown rules. This has accelerated an existing trend away from high street shopping to on-line purchasing (32.5% of sales are now on-line). Weybridge has 25 empty retail units and both Santander and Barclays banks have recently announced that they are closing their Weybridge branches.

Elmbridge Borough Council has been administering grants to businesses to cover the time they have been mandated to close. Discretionary grants have been paid to those not mandated to close but who have suffered a large downturn in trade and up to £9000 one-off payments were given in January to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses forced to close in the third lockdown. 

The government’s Budget continued both the furlough scheme and the reduced rate of VAT  for tourism and hospitality businesses until September, while extending the business rates holiday for three months.

As we emerge slowly from lockdown constraints, the Council will be looking to further support businesses from its own funds. £2000 per business will be available to improve shopfronts and signage and £1000 to support improved footfall or sustainability. Further support is available in the form of a grant of up to £2000 to bring shops that have been empty for over 3 months back into commercial use.

32 independent retailers in Elmbridge have already benefited from a grant of up to £1500 from the Elmbridge Digital High Street Fund to help them convert to selling on-line and 82 start-up awards have been made so far to provide £1000 to set up new businesses. 

Further discretionary grants are in the pipeline. Currently there is no detail on these but the following links can be used to check on progress of these grants.

EBC Finance – Covid 19 Implications

Elmbridge Borough Council’s finances are facing a perfect storm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A report from the Deputy Chief Executive was reviewed by the Council Cabinet  at its meeting on Wednesday, 10th June. The situation was described as a “huge challenge for the current year as well as the medium and long-term finances.”

The pandemic has resulted in the Council having to spend more than it planned and, at the same time, receiving less money than it expected. The recommendations in the report to Cabinet included a review of “all discretionary and non-essential spend” in the current financial year and of the current capital programme.

The Council does have money held in reserve for unexpected events but the recommendation to the Cabinet calls for the Council to “limit the draw on reserves to mitigate the deficit and have plans in place to replenish the reserves being used, over the medium term.”

The Council has needed to fund more activities as it responded to the pandemic for example more “meals on wheels” and housing for rough sleepers; increased costs are faced in order to carry out normal operations, e.g. PPE is required, additional cleaning necessary and equipment purchased to assist staff in working remotely. 

The council has three main types of funding. In 2018/2019 the contribution from each was:-

Income – from Charges & Rents                  £17.2m
Tax – Council Tax & Business Rates            £16.2m  
Other – Grants, Reserves, Bank Interest      £3.7m
Total                                                              £37.1m

In a normal year the largest part of the Council’s funding is income from charges, e.g. motorists pay to park in a council car park and businesses pay rent on Council-owned properties.  

The report forecasts that the Council will lose £6.7m of funding from income in the 2019/2020 financial year. That reduction in income is 18% of the funding and expenditure that the council had planned.  

The income reduction is caused by lockdown closures. For example there was no income from parking charges and the leisure centre was closed. Businesses in council owned properties also faced lockdown disruption and are unable to meet their full rent obligations. 

The government has provided the council with extra money to help meet the costs of pandemic related activity. But it is not clear that the government is going to assist the council in the important matter of its loss of income. The Deputy Chief Executive’s report notes that “The Secretary of State having initially given assurances that all financial strain of councils will be met by the Government, it is increasingly clear now that it is expected that Districts and Boroughs will have to manage/absorb their loss of income.”

The report also notes “that it is widely acknowledged that the impact of this pandemic is not going to be for just  3 months or until the lockdown is lifted but likely to go on for at least 6 months or even longer and it is unlikely to return to anywhere “normal”.  This will undoubtedly create a structural hole in our finances forever”.

The financial future for the council will depend on how quickly or how slowly the local economy recovers from the pandemic shock. The council faces financial uncertainty on many fronts. These include to what extent income from charges and rents recovers and how well the funding from council tax and business rates returns to normal compared with previous years.  

 

Council now knows its Carbon Footprint

Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) has completed an important step on the journey to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 – it now knows its “Carbon Footprint”. Following a comprehensive audit, EBC now has a baseline data on the location and volume of carbon emissions across the council’s operations. The learning gained from the audit will be used to produce a Carbon Reduction Action Plan. In its first stage, the plan will focus on the Council’s own operations and those it has direct control over. This is to ensure the targets are realistic and can be met as soon as possible.

The audit was carried out by the Carbon Trust who are an expert partner for organisations around the world – supporting them in realising plans for a sustainable, low carbon future.  Included in the initial suggestions from the Carbon Trust are that the council should “Go Electric” by replacing diesel road vehicles and gas heating sources.

In 2019 Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) declared a Climate Emergency following a motion by the Liberal Democrat/Residents Association Coalition. More Information can be found on the EBC website:-

Elmbridge BC advice to businesses

Live webinar on tablet with headphones

Expert advice to help businesses prepare for recovery

Do you run a local business? Sign up to EBC’s free webinar on Friday 29 May at 11am to ensure your business is ready to move forward as we emerge from this crisis.

The online event will be led by Business Growth Specialist Sanjiv Dodhia who will share the top ten actions you can take to help your business get through this uncertain time.

Vicki Macleod for Weybridge in the Surrey Elections 4th May 2017

On Thursday 4th May, you have a  chance to elect a new councillor to represent Weybridge on Surrey County Council.

Your local Liberal Democrat candidate is long term Weybridge resident Vicki Macleod.

You may know Vicki from her work in our local community, perhaps from her five years chairing the Friends of The Weybridge Centre charity. or as a school governor.

Vicki‘s priority is to give Weybridge a stronger voice for better delivery of the services local people need, including:

  • Better maintained and safer local roads and pavements
  • Local school places for Weybridge children
  • Responsible budget management by Surrey County Council

Many people see Surrey County Council as remote and inefficient with its history of mismanagement. Vicki will work with other councillors to put pressure on the administration for more effective financial management and for budgets that reflect local needs.  Her longer term aim is to see some of the services currently run by Surrey brought into local Elmbridge control.

Read more at elmbridgelibdems.org.uk

 

Looking to improve your business?

elmbridge-business-networkWhether you’re looking to start a new business, or aiming to improve your existing one, the boroughs business grant drop-in session can help. The sessions are an opportunity for local business owners to find out more about Elmbridge business grant schemes – the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund and the Elmbridge Start Up Fund – and get help with their applications. The borough will be hosting the next drop-in session on 21 October at the Civic Centre, Esher, from 12pm to 1pm.

The Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund can provide businesses with free money towards a range of projects, including shop fronts and signage, new street furniture, promotions and marketing initiatives, as well as learning skills and training initiatives. Applications are welcome from any type of business – the grant isn’t just for high street shops!

The Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund was established in 2009 with the aim of helping to boost the local economy and attract more people to use our local services and amenities. Since then, the scheme has allocated over £830,000 to over 230 local businesses.

If you’re looking to start up a new business, you can receive advice on applying to the Elmbridge Start Up Fund, which can offer up to £1,000 to new local businesses to help with setting up costs.

For more information, please visit elmbridge.gov.uk/ecif. More on the Elmbridge Start Up Fund can be found at elmbridge.gov.uk/startups

High Street Improvements

Town Square-01Not quite this radical proposal but a beginning to the improvement of the High Street.  The cabinet agreed to fund a feasibility study of proposals to alter the northern stretch of the High Street from Elmgrove Road to the Ship.

This proposal has been championed by the Weybridge Town Business Group of which my retail business is a founding member.

The details of the of the proposal are here.  Notice the cost of removing the telephone boxes!  You can see the outline plan here.  It hoped that the funding fro the project itself will come from a variety of sources including CIL.

More trains to London

Southern CrossrailWeybridge could have twice as many trains running up to London with this new inexpensive change to London Waterloo station look at the video.

For my day job I run a national environmental transport charity, based here in Weybridge, which through its campaigning has changed many ways in which we see the world.

Our latest campaign is for a quick and simple alteration to London Waterloo station which will double its capacity and dramatically improve the daily commute for millions. Watch our video and find out more about this exciting campaign.

Baker Street Improvements

Baker Street websiteWithin its 2016-17 divisional highway programme, Surrey has agreed to undertake a public realm improvement feasibility study and public consultation for £8,000.  There is nothing programmed for taking it further next year so it’ll might be 2018 before any changes appear – if that.  In the recent “Vision for Weybridge” survey most people preferred Church Street to be closed to traffic rather than Baker Street but Surrey moves extraordinarily slowly.  That’s why a Weybridge Town Council would be such a good idea.

I will keep you posted as the project develops.

High Street Focal Point

Old Post Office PavementAs a founder member of the Weybridge Town Business Group, my retail business has been based in Weybridge for over twenty years, I am pleased that a further project is progressing.  There is much to do to improve our town centre and while the more ambitious projects, as indicated in a Vision for Weybridge and elsewhere, are being planned it is well to develop smaller projects to keep up momentum.  This is where a town council would help as in Claygate.

This mini project is to refurbish the paved outlyer outside the old post office by replacing the telephone boxes, cycle racks, air pollution monitoring box and loos with removable planters and seats etc.   It is planned that small events could occur at this spot throughout the year.