An investigation by Birkdale Lib Dem Councillor Simon Shaw has revealed that one charity has cost Sefton Council £350,000 in lost rate income over the last four years on the two shops it operates in Southport – money that could have helped keep our lost library open.
Healthy Planet is a national charity operating around 30 “Books for Free” stores around the country. In Southport they have one shop in Cambridge Walks and another in one of the large units next to Homebase at the Meols Cop Retail Park.
Back in January Simon wrote to senior Council officers calling for an investigation as to whether both sites meet the requirements for bona fide charitable reduced rates. Charities, including charity shops, are entitles to a 80% reduction in their rates bill as “mandatory” rates relief.
“I was staggered to be informed that £253,000 of charity rate relief has been granted to Healthy Planet in just four years,” said Cllr Shaw.
However that wasn’t the only loss to the Council. Simon found that, through the practice of “flipping” between two adjacent units at Meols Cop Retail Park, Healthy Planet had caused a further loss of £95,000 through Empty Rate Relief.
“Every time they “flipped” and vacated, the landlord became entitled to 3 months’ Empty Rate Relief, which amounted to £19,000 to £28,000 a time. 4 “flips” so far takes the total lost rates income to £350,000.” “Almost all that loss has occurred since Labour took over control of the Council in 2012. At a time when we have seen three of our town’s libraries shut down to save around £50,000 a year or so each, why weren’t Labour Cabinet members on top of this massive loss of income to the Council,” asks Simon.