Level of child obesity in Hounslow reveals “failure of Tory childhood obesity strategy”

According to Liberal Democrat candidate for Brentford & Isleworth Joe Bourke the number of obese ten year olds in Hounslow, revealed in data released this week, shows that the Government’s Childhood Obesity plan is not working.

The National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of over one million children each year in Reception (age 4-5 years) and Year 6 (age 10-11 years) in state maintained primary schools in England. The figures just published show that in the London Borough of Hounslow there are 3,087 ten year olds who are overweight, 1883 of them considered to be obese – that is grossly fat or overweight to the point where their weight is a danger to their health.

Hounslow mirrors the national picture, with a rapid rise in the rates of obesity in the population in recent years and a related increase in the risk of a wide range of diseases and illnesses, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure & stroke, and some cancers. The NCMP figures show that the incidence amongst children varies hugely from one neighbourhood to another, with the highest rates occurring in the most deprived areas.

An new academic study also published this week shows that children with obesity are far more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as a young adult. According to Ali Abbasi, M.D., Ph.D., of King’s College London, one of the authors of the report: “A child with obesity faces a four-fold greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by age 25 than a counterpart who is normal weight.”

For Joe Bourke, all this adds up to the Government failing to tackle the issue:

“The failure of Conservatives to properly tackle childhood obesity is carelessly risking the lives of 3087 overweight children in Hounslow. “We cannot allow another five years to go by without proper steps being taken to address this problem. Liberal Democrats know it is time to get tough on advertisers and food manufacturers, to protect the future of children in Brentford and Isleworth”.

His comments echo those of the apolitical health think tank The King’s Fund. Writing on the publication of the Childhood Obesity Plan last August, David Buck, Senior Fellow, Public Health and Inequalities, said:

“After months of waiting and numerous delays, the government’s childhood obesity plan was finally published in mid-August. Expectations were high. Jeremy Hunt has described the rise in childhood obesity as a ‘national emergency’ and promised a ’game-changing’ response from the government”.

The plan re-affirmed the government’s commitment to a sugar levy but it made the ‘reformulation’ of food products to reduce the sugar content voluntary, when even industry giants like Sainsbury’s and the British Retail Consortium were calling for mandatory targets.

“It beggars belief that the government has misjudged the response of leading voices in the food retail industry, who recognise the need for the government to play a stronger co-ordinating role. To have any chance of working, voluntary action must be backed up with strong, swift and credible threats of regulation” he wrote.

Green-Labour pact in Chiswick could make all the difference in two very marginal seats

This is Diane Scott, the Green party candidate for Brentford & Isleworth. She has until 11th May to decide whether or not to pull out of the general election campaign and support Ruth Cadbury.

Given the national debate on tactical voting, the Green party nationally has left it up to local the membership to decide what to do in their own constituency. The Ealing branch has decided not to put up a candidate to run against Rupa Huq in Ealing Central and Acton, as the seat is extremely marginal. In the New Statesman’s list of ’50 Labour MPs most at risk of losing their seats’, she comes an unenviable second.

Ruth Cadbury, Labour candidate for Brentford and Isleworth, is not far behind her. She ranks as the fourth most likely to lose her seat. Tony Firkins, the Green party co-ordinator in Brentford & Isleworth constituency, told me that they were “in discussions” with the Brentford & Isleworth Labour party about withdrawing their candidate in return for a promise of support on key policies, but he said that reaching an agreement was “not very promising”. Ruth won by just 465 votes last time so she could use their votes. In the last general election the Greens polled 2,120.

The deal struck in Ealing Central and Acton is that Rupa Huq has made three public commitments:

  • To campaign actively for voting reform to improve democracy in the UK
  • To resist a “hard Brexit” in the interests of protecting the natural environment, and to defend an open society and the rights of European nationals living in the UK
  • To oppose a third runway at Heathrow Airport, and airport expansion in general.

They have until 11th May to decide whether a similar deal can be struck in Brentford & Isleworth, as that is the date by which the deposit has to be paid.

Dr Scott is a senior medical researcher, with a specialist interest in immunology. She has campaigned against air pollution and recently co-ordinated measurements which highlighted the dangerous and illegal levels of air near the A4 in Brentford.

I did an interview with her last year about the level of air pollution in Brentford. The Green Party took part in a project to measure the level of air pollution along the M4 corridor, which is consistently above the level considered to be safe.

You can watch the interview by clicking here.

Gunnersbury station now “dangerously overcrowded” says Ruth Cadbury

The Labour party candidate for Brentford & Isleworth constituency Ruth Cadbury says Gunnersbury tube station is now “dangerously overcrowded” at rush hour and there should be no more major building developments agreed until after the station can cope with the further increase in passengers.

The problem comes when people arriving to work at the Chiswick Business Park clash with local residents trying to leave. The business park is home to 45 companies including some of the world’s best known brands such as Discovery, PepsiCo and Starbucks, collectively employing more than 8,000 people. The sheer number of people using the station, especially at peak times, has led to severe overcrowding both in the ticket hall and on the platform. In the mornings local residents have often reported missing trains after being held back to allow arriving passengers to get off the platform. Much to the annoyance of residents who bought houses within range of Gunnersbury station to be able to use it to get to work, notices are posted at the station from time to time encouraging regular users of the station to avoid peak periods.

Local residents groups have asked Ruth to chair the Gunnersbury Station Action Group. They have been campaigning for some time for a footbridge which would link the Chiswick Business Park to Chiswick Park station, ciphering off some of the traffic, but although the need for a footbridge was recognised as early as 2001 and planning permission has been approved several times, most recently December 2015, there’s still no sign of it.

Ruth Cadbury says: “To relieve pressure on Gunnersbury, Chiswick Business Park has agreed, as part of the planning agreement for the final and largest park building, to fund a footbridge to take workers out of the north end of the park. What is irritating is that the complex legal agreement to achieve this has only just been signed off, and we are told the bridge will take another 2 years until this will be open. Meanwhile Building 7 will fill up, putting yet further pressure on the station.”

Ruth has written to Enjoy Work to see if they can encourage workers at Chiswick Business Park to use other routes. She has also written to Blackstone, the asset manager for Chiswick Business Park, to keep up the pressure on them to work towards a solution, and to Cllr Steve Curran, leader of Hounslow Council for an assurance that there will be no more major developments agreed until the congestion is alleviated.

West Chiswick & Gunnersbury Society say that “Gunnersbury Station is an accident waiting to happen”. “This situation is extremely unpleasant for all concerned – those struggling in the crush to leave the platform, those being delayed from accessing the platform and the unfortunate TfL staff on the front line having to cope with all this stress and frustration”.

Conservatives “delighted” that former MP Mary Macleod is their candidate again

Mary Macleod says she is “thrilled” to have been selected as Conservative candidate for Brentford & Isleworth constituency, and Conservative members say they are “delighted” to have her. She won the backing of the local Conservative association last night with an outright majority in the first ballot.

Speaking after the meeting, Sally Stephens, a supporter and friend of Mary’s said her selection was “well deserved”. Chiswick resident Brian Lynch added: “Two years ago we were devastated that Mary lost by just 465 votes after working so hard as our MP. Tonight’s selection is the first step in putting that right and winning back this seat for the Conservatives.” Brentford resident Patrick Barr said: “I’m delighted by the selection decision tonight. Mary is totally committed to making a difference both locally and nationally and is absolutely the right person to be the Member of Parliament for Brentford and Isleworth again.”

She beat Olympian James Cracknell OBE, who lives locally and has raised funds for the Brentford & Isleworth Association and Christopher Salmon, the required third nominee put forward by Conservative Party Central Office. All three gave speeches and then answered questions from Conservative party members in a closed meeting at St Paul’s Church Grove Park last night. Nearly 200 members attended and questions from the floor covered a wide range of topics including Brexit, Heathrow expansion, transport, housing, jobs, social care, NHS, town centre development, school meals, abortion, assisted dying – as well as general questions on campaigning strategy and plans between now and the 8th June.

Mary thanked them for the vote of confidence: “I am honoured to be selected as your candidate, and look forward to serving you and all the hardworking people of this wonderful constituency again” she said. Julian Tanner, Chairman of the B&I Conservative Association, remarked on the strong interest in the selection process both locally and nationally. “B&I is a key marginal which we know we can win convincingly” … “With the proposed boundary changes likely to take effect in 2018, this seat will be a Conservative one for many years to come.”

Lib Dems won’t join a coalition with May’s Conservatives or Corbyn’s Labour

It seems the Liberal Democrats have learned their lesson over taking part in coalition government after being wiped out in the last election. Leader Tim Farron has announced that they will not be doing any deals with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn after the election.

All about Brexit

For Brentford and Isleworth Liberal Democrat candidate Joe Bourke, it’s all about Brexit. Echoing his party leader’s stance on coalition, he said: “Under no conditions can we sign up to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda.”We will work with pro-European MPs in any party to stand up to the Conservatives over Hard Brexit, but Corbyn is not that. Corbyn is pro-Brexit, wants to pull us out of the single market and marched his MPs and peers through the lobbies to vote for article 50 without any concessions. Every Liberal Democrat vote and every Liberal Democrat MP elected is a challenge to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda.”This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to stop a Hard Brexit, if you want to keep us in the single market, if you want a real opposition, this is your chance.”

Who is Jo Bourke?

Joe Bourke is Chair of Hounslow Borough Liberal Democrats. He previously stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the constituency in the 2015 General election and in the Brentford Ward for the 2014 council elections. Joe is the honorary auditor for the Brentford Chamber of Commerce and a Lecturer at the University of West London’s business school in Brentford. He grew up in West London and after qualifying as an accountant worked abroad for several years in Europe, the United States and Japan before returning to London in the mid-nineties. It’s clear from his CV that he has been actively engaged in the community and working hard on local issues for many years: serving as a treasurer for a teachers union, school governor in Brentford, chairing a trade association committee, serving as a director of Brentford Football Club and its Supporter’s Trust as well as serving on the board of Supporters Direct, the national body for supporter’s trusts. Joe is also an active member of his local Residents Association.

What are his issues?

According to the Lib Dem website, during the election campaign Joe will be focusing on the needs of Brentford and Isleworth residents and highlighting Liberal Democrat policies implemented in the coalition government which have benefited Brentford and Isleworth: more money for local schools, more apprenticeships, income tax cuts, and more support for carers. Also “the widespread concern with Labour’s local area and housing plans, developed without seemingly considering the implications of an ever greater population density within a transport system already groaning under the strain” and “the need for joined-up thinking to deliver good quality affordable housing in the area – whilst considering the impact on local services and transport links”.

Brentford & Isleworth Conservatives announce third candidate

Conservatives in Brentford & Isleworth have announced the third person who members will consider for selection as their election candidate at a closed, members only meeting this evening. Christopher Salmon, senior partner in an executive search firm, joins Olympic rower James Cracknell OBE and former MP for Brentford & Isleworth Mary Macleod on the shortlist. Christopher Salmon is a former Army officer with service in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Kosovo. Put forward as a candidate by Conservative Party Central Office, this is how they describe his track record: “He was the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys from 2012 until 2016, where he increased officer numbers, expanded services for victims of domestic abuse and oversaw a reduction in crime and antisocial behaviour. He was the only Police and Crime Commissioner to reduce local tax. He was brought up on a farm in mid-Wales before studying History and Economics at Oxford. After university he lived and worked in St. Petersburg, Russia. He returned to join the Army and graduated from Sandhurst in 2003, winning the Queen’s Medal for the top cadet, before joining The Rifles. Following the Army, he worked for a consultancy firm in Hammersmith. He currently works for Crest Advisory, a consultancy specialising in criminal justice. He is a passionate advocate for localism, care for victims and rehabilitation of offenders. He speaks Russian, paints and enjoys walking in the Welsh hills. He now lives in London with his wife Sophia and son, Francis, 3 months.

He’s up against a former MP who is widely respected for her hard work and effectiveness as a constituency MP and who is popular with the business community in Hounslow as a champion of small businesses and an Olympian media personality who’s just run the London marathon in record time. Julian Tanner, Chairman of the Hounslow Brentford & Isleworth Conservative Association said: “All of our candidates would make an excellent Member of Parliament for Brentford & Isleworth and a victory for the Conservative Party would strengthen the Government in its Brexit negotiations to ensure a better and more prosperous future for our country.”

Here’s what the party says about Mary Macleod:

Mary Macleod is currently a Senior Client Partner in the largest global Executive Search firm. Mary previously worked for over twenty years in business – consulting at Accenture and in banking as Chief of Staff for Global Operations at ABN AMRO and in Group Communications and Transition for RBS. She also maintained a leading role in the charity and public policy arenas, serving as an ambassador for ActionAid, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and as Policy Officer to The Queen and the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace. Mary was elected as Member of Parliament for Brentford & Isleworth on 7th May 2010, turning over a Labour majority of 4,411 to a Conservative majority of 1,958. During her time in Parliament, she was the Prime Minister’s Small Business Ambassador for London, on the No.10 Policy Board and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, the Culture Secretary, the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Northern Ireland Secretary. She was a Trustee of the Industry Parliament Trust, set up the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament and joined the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme as a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force. Mary narrowly missed out winning at the 2015 General Election to Labour by 465 votes, even although she increased her vote by 4,609. After the election, Mary became special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland for a short period, until taking up her current role. Mary is on the Advisory Board of the charity, Career Ready, helping young people prepare for the world of work, and locally is a Trustee of The Shelter Project Hounslow and President of the Chiswick Royal British Legion.

This is what the party has to say about James Cracknell OBE:

With 2 Olympic Gold Medals and 6 World Championship titles, James Cracknell OBE is an inspiring sportsman, athlete and adventurer. In 2010, he took on America – racing to cycle, run, row and swim from LA to New York in record time. It was during this trip that James suffered a near fatal accident, after being struck from behind by a truck while cycling through Arizona. After a difficult six-month recovery, he went to the Canadian Yukon, completing The Coldest Race on Earth. James has also completed the gruelling Amundsen Omega3 South Pole Race with friends Ben Fogle and Dr Ed Coats, The Race Across The Atlantic, again with Fogle and has run the London Marathon in 2 hours 43 minutes. He was a feature writer for the Daily Telegraph for over 15 years, a factual entertainment/documentary maker with the BBC and Discovery Channel for 10 years and is into his third Olympiad working with the BBC behind the camera and microphone. Alongside these achievements, James is Vice President of the charity Headway and leads the Policy Exchange on obesity and physical activity. James is President of the London Road Safety Council and, working with Policy Exchange, he authored a report “Britain Imbalanced: Why now is the time to tackle obesity in Britain.” He serves on the Centre for Social Justice’s Working Group; Obesity, Poverty and Physical Activity. James has also been involved with the last two General Election Campaigns and the 2014 European Election. He has raised funds for the Brentford & Isleworth Association and nationally for the party and is Deputy Chair Political of Brentford & Isleworth Association and Riverside Ward. James is Director and Co-founder of a mass-participation running event creation, delivery and IP company. He lives with his wife, TV and Radio presenter Beverley Turner, and their 3 children.

James Cracknell puts himself forward for selection

James Cracknell OBE, the Olympic rower who lives in Chiswick, has announced that he would like to be considered for selection as the Conservative Party candidate for Brentford and Isleworth constituency. This is the statement he published on Friday 21 April in support of his candidacy:

Why do I want to stand?

“First and foremost it is because I care. I am not the type to sit by and complain. When I see a problem I get involved and help to solve it. This has happened throughout my life, whether in school councils, being elected as athletes’ representative or to the British Olympic Association’s Athletes Commission, or subsequently stepping up to address issues which I care about including being President of both Headway and the London Road Safety Council and ambassador for RoSPA and the RNLI.

“Secondly, I am a local. I live here, with my wife and three children and intend to do so for the long term, I am a stakeholder in the community, I care about the world around us. I want to grasp the possibility to influence and improve things for all. I have had the opportunity to consider standing in another nearby constituencies and have turned these away. I am focused entirely on representing the area where I live and it would be my great privilege to be chosen.

“Finally, because I can see a chance here to make a difference. This constituency can be won and I thought this even before the proposed boundary changes were mooted. I would like to think that I am recognised as someone who succeeds. Indeed I have never won a silver medal. In 2015, when despite the hard work we came up short, I got more involved. Indeed Mary encouraged me to do so. And I think I have worked very hard over that time. I’ve got to know people across the community, and as a party group I think we are on an awful lot stronger position. I’m not a career politician, but I have brought people and focus to this community in my own way, and I will continue to do this. I can win votes that are permanently lost to other candidates as I offer a fresh perspective.

“If I’m successful I will give everything to win the seat on June 8th and then represent the constituents of Brentford and Isleworth in Westminster and the nation as a whole.”

Ruth Cadbury says she’s ready for the election

Theresa May’s surprise announcement of a snap election in June has caught everyone on the hop. The Conservatives in Brentford and Isleworth don’t even have a candidate at the moment. Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth Ruth Cadbury, speaking ten minutes after the announcement was made, said that she’s ready to fight an election. It will be fought with the current constituency boundaries, which is to her advantage. Proposed boundary changes would put swathes of Labour voters out of her area but will not now come in to force until after the election. But her majority at the last election was the slimmest of slivers at 465 votes, so there is all to play for. Ruth says both she personally and the Labour party are ready to fight the election in June. “What the Conservative Government has done is devastating.” She listed three key reasons: “People on the lowest incomes are worse off. They’ve completely screwed up our relations with other countries, the way they went in to the referendum with no preparation and without any Plan B and the decision to plough ahead with the third runway at Heathrow”. I asked her whether the election would in effect be a second Brexit referendum, to which she replied: “We can’t reverse that decision. We need to fight for a decent deal, access to the single market, workers’ rights, environmental rights. A second referendum on Brexit is not at the top of our agenda”. She said that she is going in to the general election with confidence as she is representing the people who elected her and who she has been representing for the past two years.

Mary Macleod throws her hat into the ring

Mary Macleod, the former Member of Parliament for Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth, Osterley and Hounslow, today announced her intention to put her name forward for selection as the Conservative Candidate for her former seat, at the next General Election on 8 June 2017.

Mary said “It was an honour and privilege to be the MP for Brentford and Isleworth from 2010-2015. It was a chance to make a real difference to people’s lives in the local community and work with residents, businesses, schools, charities and other organisations to improve the local area. “Watching from the sidelines over the last two years has only strengthened my resolve to continue this work, particularly given the significant changes we are about to go through as we leave the European Union. It’s important for local residents to have a strong voice in Parliament during this time, with a MP who knows the constituency well and can work effectively with colleagues at Westminster to deliver a stronger economy with real opportunities for all. I would relish the opportunity to use my experience, passion and knowledge to represent this brilliant constituency once more.” Mary won the 2010 General Election from Labour with a majority of 1,958. She then increased her vote in the 2015 General Election by 4,609 but narrowly lost out by 465 votes.

Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives are busy organising the selection process to choose their candidate for the 2017 election. This is the first time constituency party chairman Julian Tanner has overseen a selection process. He promises it will be smooth and efficient, following due process to give equal opportunity to any who wanted to apply and said they already have a number of qualified individuals who may be interested. Within half an hour of the election being called yesterday he’d already had one potential applicant call him to announce that they would like to stand. We know that Olympic rower James Cracknell is interested. Now that Mary Macleod has formally stated her wish to be considered I wonder who else will come forward.

Air pollution becomes a campaign issue

This is Mary Macleod not campaigning at Brentford market on Sunday. She’s not campaigning yet as she doesn’t want to count her chickens before the Brentford & Isleworth Conservative party meeting tonight at which the Conservative candidate will be chosen. Hence her rather modest Sunday morning tweet: ‘Lovely to be at the fabulous @BrentfordMarket this morning with great friends.’ It is a favourite haunt, as when she was MP Brentford marketplace received funding from Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, as part of his Outer London Fund. They visited the market together in April 2015 to see how the money had been spent. On Sunday Mary said: “I love coming to Brentford Market. It has a great, relaxed atmosphere and there are always fabulous and interesting street stalls. I particularly enjoyed finding out about the electric cars on display from Tesla and Nissan – it is the future for motoring, particularly given the air quality challenges we are facing across the country”.

Funny she should mention that. While Mary was advocating electric cars as the solution for air pollution, the Conservative government was coming under fire for delaying plans to tackle air pollution. The long-awaited plan to improve air quality has been kicked in to the long grass till after the election. Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom told MPs on Monday that her proposals for tackling nitrogen dioxide levels would not be released until after the election despite a High Court order to publish it by 4pm that day. The High Court ruled last November that the Government’s plan for tackling air pollution was so bad it was actually illegal. That is now a full five months ago, yet the Government left it until after the election had been called to lodge a request with the High Court for an extension. Now Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom is able to claim that although her plan has been written, it is being held back so as not to breach the rules on Government activity in the run up to the local and general election. Manwhile air pollution is believed to be responsible for 40,000 unexplained deaths a year. It particularly affects young children and the elderly.

The M4 corridor has air pollution levels that are consistently higher than is considered safe. Labour candidate Ruth Cadbury, standing for re-election in Brentford & Isleworth, has campaigned against the expansion of Heathrow in part because of the likely increase in traffic and the added contribution that will make to air pollution in our bit of west London. She tweeted: “Pushing ahead with #3rdRunway will only make illegal levels of air pollution in Hounslow area worse. Don’t residents deserve better?” “47% more flights will mean more px, staff, freight & flight servicing. Don’t tell me that won’t cause additional pressure on local roads”.

The Chiswick Calendar Business Rate Debate

Chiswick High Rd Under Threat

The character of the High Rd is under threat, with small independent businesses squeezed by rising rents and rates at the same time as they are being hit with rising costs due to the drop in the value of the pound. Some are deciding to throw in the towel and close up before they have to pay huge increases in their business rate this month. Others will have to make changes – let staff go or change how they operate in order to survive. This is the message that came out clearly from The Chiswick Calendar Debate on business rates, the consensus from the panel of experts and local business people in the audience.

On the panel chaired by broadcaster and journalist Julian Worricker were Professor Tony Travers, Director of LSE London research centre, adviser to a couple of House of Commons Select Committees and the author of a number of books on local government and politics; David Lesniak, co-owner of American café Outsider Tart; Cllr Theo Dennison, Cabinet Member for Finance on Hounslow Council and Sandra Clark, ratings surveyor and Partner with Montagu Evans.

Click here to watch the whole debate recorded at the Tabard theatre on Monday 27 March, or read the highlights here:

  • Character of the High Rd under threat
  • Business rates unfair and unpredictable
  • A tax on success
  • Not the council’s fault
  • The valuation system needs reform
  • Politicians too frightened to address the problem
  • Costs to businesses are going up
  • Big businesses are driving up rents
  • Chiswick is not a ‘Golden Goose’ for Hounslow Council
  • Chiswick retailers need representation
  • Advice on how to cope with business rates increases

Character of the High Rd under threat

The character of the High Rd is under threat, with small independent businesses squeezed by rising rents and rates. Business rates are linked to the rental value of a property and several speakers made the point that national and global chains are pushing independent businesses out because they can afford to pay much higher rents and rates. Cllr Theo Dennison, Cabinet Member for Finance on Hounslow Borough Council, said: “One of the big problems with those national chains is that they are pushing up the rental value of properties especially in places like Chiswick and the very character of the high street is being changed by them because the impact of them coming in and bidding high is that smaller retailers, local retailers and independents are being squeezed out and now this is when the squeeze is going to bite really hard”. David Lesniak, co-owner of the American café Outsider Tart, told the audience that businesses were already closing in anticipation of not being able to make the business rate payments: “I think you’re seeing businesses close before this even happened, to avoid it altogether… so that’s one way to deal with it, simply to fold now and be done”. Independent businesses also face competition by charity shops, which get an 80% reduction in business rates. Just this week we have heard that a charity shop is to open where the Blink boutique used to be on Chiswick High Rd.

Cllr Sam Hearn, Councillor of Chiswick Riverside ward, made the point that in some high streets ‘every other shop is a charity shop’ and questioned why charities are given a reduction in business rates, when there must be other ways for the government to protect them.

Business rates unfair and unpredictable

The reason that business rates are an issue now is that they are being revalued this month, after a period of seven years. For many the revaluation means huge hikes in the amount they have to pay. David Lesniak described the unpredictability and the unfairness of business rates. He said he knew he had to pay taxes and was willing to pay them but finds the system baffling and had been unable to find out in advance how much they would have to pay. Outsider Tart, on the corner of Chiswick High Rd and Chiswick Lane, occupies two premises jointly, which are rated differently. One half of their café has received a 25% rates increase, the other 50%. Julian Worricker, chairing the debate, cited three shops on Turnham Green Terrace, properties of similar size in the same street which have received widely differing rates demands. Cllr Theo Dennison said “I defy anyone to actually come up with a rateable value estimate for their property. It is impossible… there’s no sense in it”. Sandra Clark, ratings surveyor and Partner with Montagu Evans, explained that business rates are inherently impossible to predict because the amount you pay is made up of the rateable value of your individual property combined with a multiplier, the uniform business rate, a figure set by the government based on national statistics. As one element of the multiplier is inflation, this means that the uniform business rate will almost certainly go up.

There is recognition by government that the system is unfair, as there is a mechanism in place for appeals. Theo Dennison said they are expecting a staggering 60% of businesses to appeal against their rating assessment, which represents a potential loss of revenue to the council of £15m. They are still struggling with the backlog of appeals from the last rating assessment in 2010 with 28% cases still outstanding.

A tax on success

Prof Tony Travers, who teaches Local Government and Politics at the LSE, compared the costs of big retail outlets in out of town malls with high streets: “big retail sheds are not as much affected by all of this, particularly wholesale sheds out on trading estates than high streets and there is a terrible paradox built in to all of this, that the better council and the businesses make this high street, the higher rentals will go and therefore the higher rateable values will go”. Theo Dennison agreed, calling it “a tax on success”. He said: “valuations in Hounslow have gone up significantly, a lot more than Ealing our neighbouring borough, largely because of the success of businesses within the borough and the success of the council itself”.

Not the council’s fault

Theo Dennison was at pains to point out that the increases in business rates are not the council’s fault as they do not set the business rate. Tony Travers backed him up on this, adding that councils lost responsibility for setting business rates in the 1990s when Margaret Thatcher ‘nationalised’ them. Local councils were however made legally responsible for collecting them and for managing the appeals. They used not to keep any of the funds; the money went direct to central government which then paid local councils a grant out of the money received. In 2013 the system was changed; councils now keep some of the money collected but Theo Dennison said: “We do not see a single penny. For every single penny we retain, we lost the revenue support grant. So in terms of financially did we gain from it? No we didn’t. And additionally we took on the risk of all the appeals that businesses will be making”.

By 2020 100% business rates will be localised. George Osborne when he was Chancellor promised that this would be “the biggest transfer of power to local government in living memory”. Theo’s response to that was: “and we will not have the power to raise the business rate or cut it”.

These changes are happening against a backdrop of severe cuts to local government funding. Tony Travers outlined the difficulties faced by local councils: “Their underlying funding has fallen by a significant amount. Their overall budgets are down by 25% or 35% since 2010”. If less money were raised from businesses “it would have to be taken from adult social care or something and that is the underlying problem: that the government has decided to cut the deficit but in a way that protects most of its own services and cutting local government more than almost any other part of the public sector. And that means that at a very, very profound level the question of how streets are cleaned and how rubbish is collected is competing directly with whether old people are looked after properly, whether children are looked after in homes and all of this stuff”.

The valuation system needs reform

All the panellists agreed that the system needs to be reformed. Cllr Sam Hearn said it’s clear that the system is deeply flawed and it needs reform, but that each of the potential alternatives is problematic because the more you try to make a system fair, of necessity the more complex it becomes. He suggested local councils have power theoretically under the Localism Act to reduce rates – powers which Theo Dennison said he was not aware of.

Politicians too frightened to address the problem

David Lesniak suggested that far more revenue would be raised if even a fraction of a percentage was added to residential rates bills, but Tony Travers explained why politically this was a non-starter. “Most politicians privately think that there does need to be a review but the difficulty, as with so many things, is that they don’t quite know what to do about it. It is easy for all of us to imagine that national politicians are powerful people who control the world of which they are a part. Actually they’re petrified. And they’re petrified about fiddling around with any tax anybody can tell they’re paying. And the tragedy for businesses is that in general businesses are less likely to vote than individual citizens and therefore the government’s been willing to push through the business rate revaluation … with a willingness to sweep away the consequences that they would never in a thousand years consider if it was going to hit householders”.

Costs to businesses are going up

At the same time as they are being squeezed by increasing rents and rates, businesses are faced with increases in the cost of the commodities they buy as a result of the drop in the value of the pound following the vote to leave the European Union. David Lesniak said the increase in business rates is just one increase that they were facing this year: “all of our suppliers have increased their prices by at least 10% and they’re all citing Brexit as the reason … so all those things continue to impact staying open. I’m not even talking about a profit”.

Big businesses are driving up rents

“It is very frustrating to see these larger companies coming in and drive up the rent. They don’t really care. Or worse, they have the ability to negotiate maybe even a better rate than I’m getting because the freeholders go ‘Oh, I’d love to have Starbucks in’ … so if they have an adjacent space that’s also available suddenly they can charge more for that based on that. … If Jamie Oliver can’t make it on the High Rd there’s a problem. You know, if he can’t draw enough traffic to pay the rent, that’s telling me the rents aren’t fair to begin with”.

Chiswick is not a ‘Golden Goose’ for Hounslow Council

It’s often thought by people who live in Chiswick that Hounslow Council sees Chiswick as a source of revenue which it mercilessly exploits. Local resident Barbara Elson said: “I’ve always got the impression that Chiswick is the ‘golden goose’ of Hounslow and I think that Hounslow council will kill the golden goose and if there is an opportunity to be discretionary and to support small businesses then it’s something they should really look to do, because otherwise the small businesses are going to go and people like me, well I’ll just cycle to Richmond instead. You’re already made it practically impossible to park in this area so you really do need to start looking after this High Rd”.

Theo’s response to this was: “I love Chiswick, I used to live in Chiswick, my wife is desperate for us to come back and live in Chiswick. As far as we’re concerned it is not the golden goose … the truth is the top three rate payers are Sky, GSK and Mogden sewage works. Chiswick is a hot area, largely because of the business park, but the High Rd is not a great cash cow for us”.

Chiswick retailers need representation

Several people made the point that Chiswick businesses need better representation, especially High Rd retailers. Theo Dennison said part of the problem for businesses is that they do not have a voice. There are 7,181 businesses in Hounslow registered to pay business rates, with no one specifically speaking for them. Syon, the ward he represents as councillor, has 10,414 residents and they have someone representing their interests on the council. Joanna Biddolph, PR consultant, said there has been meeting after meeting over the past decade in an attempt to get local businesses to work together, but people don’t have the time or the energy to go to meetings. She stressed the importance of local businesses at very least comparing notes as she knew of one person in Devonshire Rd paying 18% more in rent than anyone else in the street because she hadn’t compared notes on what other businesses were paying before she signed her lease. David Lesniak said businesses used to feel that they had a voice when Mary Macleod was London ambassador for small businesses but now we don’t even have a town manager.

Advice on how to cope with business rates increases

In terms of practical advice on what businesses can do to mitigate the impact of increased business rates, Sandra Clark gave a check list of basic things to do: number one being to check the valuation officer has the right property. Check the floor area is correct. Compare notes with units close to you. It might be twenty years since the property was visited. Air conditioning for example adds to the rateable value of a property. People don’t always realise that they have to apply for relief, so they may be eligible but won’t get it unless they apply. Appeals can take at least two to three years and you have to pay the rates while it is being considered so even though you may get it back in the end, it is still an up-front cost which the council legally has to collect. If you really are in hardship you can apply for your appeal to be looked at sooner under ‘hardship relief’ but it’s hard to get. Theo Dennison described what leeway the council had to be flexible in collecting payment: “We would love to put any business that’s having difficulty onto a scheme that means they’re able to make a reasonable contribution to what they actually owe and if they’ve got an appeal in we’ll take that into account in terms of what we believe should be paid”. The council does not charge a penalty or charge interest to businesses who’ve agreed a payment plan, he said, but if they have to go to court then the court costs get added on. “It pays a business, just as it pays a resident, to come to an understanding with the council as swiftly as possible. We are obliged to make a collection and we are also keen to make it as easy as possible for those, particularly marginal businesses and those on marginal incomes who are going to struggle to pay. It pays to get that arrangement in place as swiftly as possible rather than bury your head in the sand and think it’s going to go away”.

The chancellor announced £300 million for councils to offer businesses discretionary relief. Theo said Hounslow hasn’t received their share yet. They don’t know how much it will be and he doesn’t yet have an answer as to how they might distribute it.


I’d like to thank the Tabard theatre for hosting this event, from which neither they nor we made any profit.