Paul Gardner At Downing St
Yesterday Paul Gardner, founder of the East End Trades Guild and fourth generation proprietor of Spitalfields oldest family business Gardners Market Sundriesmen led a contingent to 10 Downing St consisting of fellow traders Sarah Haque of Urban Species and Len Maloney of JC Motors, supported by John Biggs Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Philip Glanville Mayor of Hackney, and Meg Hiller MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch.
The purpose was to deliver his petition of 10,562 signatures to Theresa May in advance of today’s budget, demanding a reduction in the excessive business rate increases proposed in London which threaten to wipe out independent shops and small businesses across the East End.
When Gardners Market Sundriesmen was selected as one of Britain’s Top 100 Small Businesses last year, Paul Gardner was invited to a reception at Downing St to meet Margot James, Minister for Small Businesses in December. On that day, Paul delivered a letter to Theresa May asking her to intervene on the issue of excessive increases in business rates for small businesses in London but he received no reply, so he organised a petition with the East End Trades Guild as a means to indicate the level of concern to the Prime Minister.
When I first interviewed Paul Gardner at his shop seven years ago, I do not think either of us ever imagined the outcome would be Paul becoming the spokesman for his fellow traders through founding the East End Trades Guild. Or that his natural integrity and moral authority might draw the support of the Mayors of both Tower Hamlets and Hackney, accompanying him to deliver his petition to Downing St on behalf of all the traders in the East End.
After he delivered the petition yesterday morning, it was business as usual for Paul Gardner as he went back to open his shop in Commercial St where I discovered him behind the counter. Unusually dapper in a suit and tie, and with his unruly locks newly trimmed, he was still flushed from his trip to Whitehall.
“It was exciting going to Downing St. You feel that you are doing something. Some people might say that it’s not really worthwhile, but it is always better to do something than nothing and I am quietly optimistic something will happen in the next day or two. We raised over ten-thousand-five-hundred signatures and I know we could easily have got more if we had time. We had a table in Columbia Rd Market last Sunday and I think if we had also gone to Brick Lane we would have got quite a lot more signatures.
When you arrive at Downing St, you have to show them your passport before you go through security, then you walk a hundred yards up the path and number ten is on your right hand side. You are allowed to take photos outside but, once you knock on the door, you have to hand over the petition. I knocked on the door but I didn’t give the man the petition right away, I had a conversation with him and I held onto it so that we got quite a few pictures of him taking the petition. He said it was going to go straight to Theresa May’s desk.
I am very pleased we did this. I am very proud to represent the East End Trades Guild and the more-than-ten-thousand people who signed the petition. Before the East End Trades Guild existed we all suffered in silence and didn’t know who to talk to, but the Guild has provided a sounding board for traders to speak with one another and it has given us a sense of community.
I’m hoping our petition makes a difference and people will realise that the East End of London – Hackney and Tower Hamlets in particular – will be dramatically hit if these business rates come into force. For me, it’s a 120% increase which is massive but there are others worse off. The majority are still unaware because they haven’t had their rates bill yet.
It is going to be pretty hard for a lot of businesses. I deal with people in Hackney and Tower Hamlets and I know what a tough time they are having to survive. Nobody can afford 100% increase in business rates.
If we don’t get adequate relief from the government, I can see closure of 20% of businesses – maybe more than that – in the next five years. In the first year, the increase is not too much but after that it builds up more and more. Combined with escalating rents round here, it will alter the landscape in Columbia Rd, Brick Lane, Broadway Market and Dalston.
It’s mad – business will no longer be tenable for a lot of people. It will kill the area in some respects because everywhere will become exactly the same as everywhere else, whereas round here there are quite a lot of independent shops which bring people to the East End.
The rateable value of my shop was £18,000 and now it’s going up to £40,000. If this happens, it will mean the end of the line for my business after nearly one hundred and fifty years, and four generations. At the moment I pay about £190 a week business rates but there’s no way I could carry on if I have to pay over £400 a week just on business rates before anything else, so there wouldn’t be any longevity in the shop.
I’m hopefully optimistic that something will be done to help us in the budget.”
Paul Gardner delivers his petition to Theresa May
Paul Gardner, Paper bag seller and founder of the East End Trades Guild
Paul Gardner with fellow traders Sarah Haque and Len Moloney
A jubilant moment after the delivery of the petition
Notice in the window of Gardners Market Sundriesmen yesterday
Paul Gardner, Paper Bag Baron delivers his petition to Downing St on behalf of East End traders
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
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