They’ve got us over a barrel

They’ve got us over a barrel

They’ve got us over a barrel

A local businesswoman explains how Hackney Road closures are threatening the very existence of the family business.

We have worked on the Islington-Hackney border and have lived in Hackney for 25 years. We have a small family-run wine business selling boutique wines to restaurants. We also now have an online service, as all our restaurants closed in March for Lockdown and are still operating at minimal capacity.

The road closures in both boroughs, along with the closure of London’s bridges and the taking out of bus lanes to make cycle lanes has meant that the time taken to pick up our wine in Barking and Tilbury -where it is kept in a government bonded warehouse – has trebled. (We pay all the duty on it when the wine leaves the warehouse – currently £2.24 per bottle for still wine and £2.86 for sparkling). We collect this tax for the government and pay it immediately, whether or not we ourselves have been paid – which means that we cannot store it long-term in a non bonded warehouse.

Our driver is in pieces. Delivering locally is becoming almost impossible. On top of this we pay £30 per day to Transport for London for the privilege of driving in London, which sometimes makes it absolutely not cost effective. Our van is Diesel. It is the one recommended by TfL about three years ago and fitted to Euro 5 emissions standards. Last year we were informed that we now needed Euro 6 fittings but that it is not possible to upgrade our van to this. The only alternative would be to buy a brand-new van. They had a scheme in place for micro businesses to get  help with this but we , like most, were over the threshold so lost out again.

After three years of Brexit uncertainty, followed by Covid-19, we are not in a position to buy anything at all, and certainly not in a position to employ more than one driver and more than one smaller van. Police checks ensure that we must use a two-tonne van for weighty deliveries to remain legal and safe.

A new electric 2t van at £75k will only do 30 miles before needing an eight-hour recharge. Only the very wealthiest companies such as DHL can afford this option.

Everyone in our office cycles, walks and uses public transport to work and at the weekends. Far from being anti-cycling or anti-walking – we have always been champions of both – and  our business depends on supporting the many farmers who may not have  survived without us and our support for  their environmental endeavours.

Currently we are only one of thousands of companies who find themselves in a similar position. We are demonised, referred to as ‘rats’ on rat-runs (i.e. the only routes available since, previous road closures deliberately set out to create havoc), then asked to effectively pay to pollute. TfL are not honest about the revenue-raising they are enjoying from making people who are already in trouble, pay more for less, while doing nothing to decrease the emissions. In fact, emissions are far higher along the roads where one lane ensures endless idling. Journey times have almost trebled across London, and Hackney is now at a standstill.

As ever, the biggest companies will find ways to absorb the costs, pricing smaller London based businesses out of the market. This also comes at a time when business rates have never been higher and the whole hospitality sector is struggling to survive. If things do not change, we are all looking at a city run by the very rich for the very few. We will lose our small independent restaurants, bars, retailers and businesses – not in a matter of years, but in a matter of months. The idea that we should live in zones from where we do not venture, is contrary to everything that is great about London. It is a huge, wonderful melting pot of cultures and communities, villages and centres of excellence. The attitude of the small group of salaried fanatics, with no experience or knowledge or appreciation of business is threatening our existence. They will not stand the test of time, but in the interim, they are damaging the infrastructure of our great borough and our city

Of course, we all want to find ways of lowering pollution fast – but we need joined up thinking and proper investment if small businesses are to survive. We also need consultation and fresh ideas. Simply punishing the very heartbeat of the city is not a solution, either for the environment or for the population.

A few suggestions:

To get this into context, we are fully supportive of finding ways to lower emissions and are constantly making suggestions – such has helping business to make changes in the way of grants or interest free loans to change their vehicles, to operate street sharing and night delivery incentives, or setting up delivery hubs which are government bonded allowing us to use smaller vehicles or even bikes for local deliveries.

It falls on deaf ears. They have realised that it is all too little too late and feel they have no choice in order to protect our planet.