By Ben Gummer
This is an article written by Ben Gummer MP in its entirety for the local paper
'It is a privilege to have this space to write in every week, one that I try not to debase by filling column inches with regular political rants. But a meeting on Tuesday made me so angry that I am going to suspend my self-imposed armistice this week.
The road outside my office in Fore Street has been a building site since March. For many weeks no motor traffic has been able to pass and the pavements have been hemmed in with ugly steel railings. It is either noisy with pneumatic drills and diggers to the point where a telephone conversation becomes impossible, even with the doors and windows shut, or almost silent for want of passers-by, buses and cars. Fore Street stinks of bitumen freshly poured and rubbish uncollected.
The result has been a devastating fall-off in trade for local businesses. Although parliament is sitting, I left London at six on Tuesday morning to meet my neighbours at a quarter past eight: what they had to say left me stunned. All have seen a massive collapse in sales, some as bad as 90%.
Who has done this? Well, National Grid is responsible for all the works. They are replacing ancient gas mains and no one blames them for doing that. But to take six months - SIX MONTHS - and to be nowhere near finishing: that is a disgrace.
But Ipswich Borough Council is also to blame, big time. It is they that licence the possession of the road by National Grid, they that influence the signs the company must use.
Now, the signs tell you all you need to know about the Borough's approach to local businesses. The ones placed at the junction of Fore Street and Star Lane suggest that the whole road is closed, which it is not, and point to a diversion that does not exist. Having prevented what little traffic from reaching Fore Street shops, they are now taking the owners to court to recover business rates that they can no longer afford.
One shop owner who is charged £7,500 a year in rates took only £300 in total last week. You can do the maths; clearly Ipswich Borough Council cannot. Another shop owner asked why the council, which was supposed to serve the town, was helping to drive their businesses into the ground. Quite.
I'll tell you one reason why. It is not that the council hates business: it is because they do not understand it. Put a balance sheet or profit and loss statement in front of most of the governing party and they would struggle to hold it the right way up. It's not surprising really: few Labour councillors have worked in small business; almost none have run their own company or shop. They think business is all big city banks and multinationals; they do not understand that most businesses are very small, nor that for the majority of small business owners the biggest worry is not about bonuses but whether they can pay their employees' salaries at the end of the month; and they forget that most small business employees earn not very much. These people need support: they are the ones that provide jobs and growth.
So what should have the council have done? At the very least they could have arranged a rates payment holiday, rather than issuing a summons to court.
Perhaps most useful of all would be some work experience for some councillors in these Fore Street shops. They would then know how hard it was running a small business. As it stands, I'd not trust them with a whelk stall, let alone the government and growth of our town.'
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