Traders at the Victorian Market in Inverness are calling for urgent help from Highland Council over fears many could go bust without assistance on their rents
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Businesses within the council-owned part of the market pay rents into the Inverness Common Good Fund, and have been given no payment break or rent reduction in recognition of the circumstances created by the pandemic.
As with other businesses across the city most shops in the historic market have been closed during the current lockdown.
Traders now say that livelihoods are teetering on the brink, but calls to the council for help appear so far to have fallen on deaf ears.
Jeweller Willie Morrison, a member of the market’s stakeholders group, felt the council could take action if it wanted to.
“There are lots of private landlords that have offered rent deductions or free rent to their clients over the past few months because they want to keep them there,” he said.
“To me it looks like the council have gone out of their way to be as difficult as possible.
“We had an online meeting last week where all the councillors were invited, but only three turned up – Ron MacWilliam, Andrew Jarvie and Isabelle Mackenzie.”
Inverness Ness-side member Cllr MacWilliam submitted a motion to the council’s city area committee last November, calling on it to consult traders with the aim of providing “appropriate additional support”.
He said such a move would be to the long-term benefit of the Common Good Fund – currently worth £5 million – as well as the businesses which pay into it.
It was rejected, however, after Depute Provost Graham Ross, on the advice of city manager David Haas, said it was “not competent” as supporting Common Good Fund tenants would disadvantage other commercial traders.
The matter was referred to the Inverness city Covid recovery board, which Cllr Ross chairs, but to date no help has been forthcoming.
Cllr MacWilliam said: “It has
been soul-destroying listening to our civic leaders put so
much thought into how best to spend the savings from Covid-related event cancellations.
“Meanwhile, the commercial tenants in the Inverness Common Good Fund estate, who supply the fund’s income, are struggling through the worst ever trading year.
“I first contacted the provost in April 2020 to urge her to put support in place as part of the pandemic response, but nine months later we are no further forward.
“Many private sector landlords have given rent reliefs to tenants, born not from kindness but self-interest.
“These small businesses are the geese that lay the golden eggs, but the Town House so far seems unconcerned.”
James Ewart, co-owner of the Milk Bar in the market, said: “The remaining traders in the Victorian Market are seeking to engage with the councillors on the city of Inverness area committee in the same way as we would any other commercial landlord.
“What we are requesting is not cash contributions from the Common Good Fund, rather a temporary suspension in our contributions into the fund via our rental payments.
“The significance to the businesses operating in the Victorian Market of such a consideration should not be underestimated – it could be make or break for a good number of us.”
Cllr Ross and Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for Highland Council said: “A motion was put to the city committee in November, where it was discussed and debated by councillors.
“The city committee then took a decision to reject this motion.
“The city area recovery group has been discussing various ways to support businesses at this time and going forward, including the promotion of the range of financial and grant support available.”