Shepway District Council…what have you done with the money Sainsbury’s gave you to help the troubled town of Hythe?
Well…I was a bit bored…so I thought I’d have another little look into Shepway’s organization of local by-elections to see if they had …oops…forgotten to tell any of the actual locals about them again. However, on digging just a little further, I was met with quite a lot of bigger issues.
Remarkably, I’ve just found out that a few years ago Sainsbury’s handed over the huge sum of £200,000 to Shepway District Council. This was to help support small businesses in the Kent town of Hythe after one of their large supermarkets was plonked right next to the high street.
That’s nice, I thought, until I realized Hythe Town Council was allocated just £30,000 to spend locally as they pleased, while the rest was retained by Shepway District Council for further review. For those of you who can’t do sums (George Osborne) that’s £170,000…which could REALLY help Hythe town centre to recover from the sudden loss of business.
Even worse…although the sum was signed over to Shepway in 2009, we’re now into 2013 and most of the money has yet to be spent.
Saying that, Hythe has acquired a very nice notice board that cost in the region of £5,000 and there’s talk of some pretty funky xmas lights to the tune of £45,000. Well that’s Hythe all prettied up for a couple of weeks in the middle of Winter…now what about the rest of the year?
Oh yes…Hythe could be getting a very posh electric boat to carry passengers up and down the Military Canal, which is a major feature in Hythe. This is said to be costing around £15,000 to set up. Hmmm…hang on, though, isn’t there already a very well established small business on the canal which hires out rowing boats and also takes several passengers at a time up and down part of its course in a very quaint little motor boat? Yes, there is and the people of Hythe and visiting tourists love it!
So…already I’m seeing a pattern here. Local businesses have been suffering a slump in profits as a direct result of a brand spanking new Sainsbury’s taking a large chunk of their business for three years with no firm offer of financial help from Shepway District Council. Sounds about right and totally predictable, considering the state of the neighbouring coastal towns which continue to be neglected and left to rot away quietly.
Did anybody ask local traders how this great whacking amount of £200,000 could benefit them? Did anyone actually go into shops to find out what would help these worried shop-owners to survive? Well, actually they did, but it wasn’t the domineering Tories or the fence-hugging Lib-Dems. It was Labour.
While we’re on the subject of the Tories and their strangle-hold on Shepway, I am totally shocked there are no elected Labour councillors whatsoever in Shepway! There may be a few Labour representatives sitting on local councils, but they are registered as independent, so Labour’s voice is still fairly muted as a party.
The reason I’m so shocked is because the Labour party seem to be very active all year round. There’s never an issue that isn’t being tackled by them and they’re right there in the middle of any debate, pushing forward with even the smallest of issues. No job too small and no individual’s plight too unworthy of their attention.
During January and February 2012, Folkestone and Hythe Labour representatives, Peter Wallace and Matthew Hillyer conducted a very in-depth report on how the local shop-owners in Hythe felt about the situation they now find themselves in and gathered their opinions on how the £200,000 from Sainsbury’s would be better spent. They and other Labour members gave up many hours of their time to go into every shop to find out.
What they discovered was quite unsettling.
It was found 94% of traders hadn’t been consulted about the contribution from Sainsbury’s and most of them didn’t even know it existed. The list below gives a brief outline of the issues these shop-owners hoped to see the money spent on:
84% Free car parking
73% Lower business rates
58% Better facilities for shoppers
50% Improvements to street signs
48% A notice board
47% Decorations/cosmetic improvements
44% An effective, elected body
34% A free magazine
30% A website for your business
30% Street festivals
As I said, this is just a brief outline. The consultation and subsequent report was far more in-depth and an absolute indication of how Sainsbury’s’ gesture of goodwill could directly benefit local businesses.
Unfortunately, the Tories didn’t see it that way and have refused to give the report any credibility whatsoever. Peter Wallace, Secretary to Folkestone and Hythe Labour Party had this to say on the subject:
“Chris Capon, Conservative Councillor for Hythe, delivered our report on the high street to Hythe Town Council on our behalf, as the Mayor of Hythe would not accept it from us in person. In fact, Conservative councillors were specifically told not to engage with the Labour party and when our report was raised at a Hythe Town Council meeting a Councillor remarked that “the perpetrators of the report should crawl back down the hole where they came from.” The report was also regarded as a ‘wish list by the traders’ and the results of the report were dismissed by the council. The traders’ suggestions, to reassess business rates and provide more time for customers to park in the high street, were not discussed by the council.”
Perpetrators? Hole? Wish list?
According to what is known as a S106 document relating to Sainsbury’s’ payment to Shepway District Council of £200,000, it clearly states the money is to be used to help the town centre recover from the sudden intrusion of a large new business for a minimum of three years. Well it’s already been three years and shops are continuing to close. Shop-owners are surviving on their savings and losing money day by day. The money is NOT being used to help them. Where is it?
But…still…at least there is now a nice new notice board to help people find their shops until they close down. Plus, just think how nicely lit all those dark and empty shop windows will be each xmas.
It doesn’t matter, though, because passengers using the new canal boat won’t be able to see any of it. Tourists will see only the banks of the canal and surrounding grassy slopes full of beautiful flowers. Of course…this is all the Tories want us to see. They don’t want us to see how they REALLY treat the townsfolk of Hythe.
Read more about Labour’s campaign to save Hythe High Street here: