We’re dismayed that multi-tasking Liverpool city centre bar MelloMello seems to be facing a tough future, with news that Liverpool City Council has ended the venue’s business rates relief, increasing annual charges to a massive £30,000.
The venture – a Community Interest Company that operates on a non-profit basis – has enjoyed relief of 80% on business rates in the past, but has recently learned that the full rates are now payable after the council decided that MelloMello is not a high priority as it attempts to balance books and find savings.
We asked MelloMello director Rob Longson for his take on events and how people can help make their feelings known to a council that Longson believes has little interest in Liverpool’s independent venues.
We have also asked Liverpool City Council for a response, which we will add when we receive it.
SevenStreets: What’s happening with MelloMello?
Rob Longson: Liverpool City Council, or rather the Council’s Director of Finances and Revenues, has decided to strip MelloMello CIC of its previously awarded 80% discretionary business rates relief. Meaning that rather than paying 20% of the business rates for 40-42 Slater Street, we now need to pay 100%, approximately £30,000.00 per year.
Nothing has changed in the way we operate; if anything, we have only improved the ways in which we meet the Council’s criteria for being awarded rates relief. Yet, unexpectedly, the council have taken away the only charity that this business – which has been built out of nothing other than dedication and hard work – has relied upon.
SS: What does this mean for the future of MelloMello?
RL: Well, upon being informed that our application for rates relief had been declined we immediately wrote what we felt to be a very strong appeal, which went into extreme detail as to how MelloMello CIC met the various criteria for rates relief.
This appeal, after about four months of being chased up, was denied and we were instructed to immediately pay any arrears accrued during the time waiting for the appeal – and that £30,000.00 was payable for the whole year.
This is not a figure which we can sustain or really even hope to sustain if we are to continue using our current business model, which is that of a not-for-profit, registered Community Interest Company set up to facilitate and promote grassroots artistic endeavours.
SS: How will this impact on the people who use MelloMello as a venue?
RL: The people who want to hire the venue? Instead of charging £50, we’ll have to charge something like £250… and that’ll be a weeknight too. Which local, DIY promotors who want to put on local bands do you know who can afford this and still pay the band and get an audience in?
The musicians who want to hire the recording studio will be priced out. The people who want to practice yoga in the dance studio will be priced out. Basically, we will either have to close or go against the aims of the company. We won’t be doing the latter.
SS: What has the council told you?
RL: Interestingly enough, we asked them for reasons and justification. The first response was along the lines of “I’ll have to ask my supervisor and get back to you”, the second response was to ignore the question and the third response was that the Council had to “find savings during the last two years of £141 million and will need to find further savings for 2013/14” and that whilst our Company’s aims were “admirable” they did not fit with the Council’s “high priorities”.
That’s a direct quote from the Head of Revenues, Phil Robinson. I find it interesting that no-one in the Council has taken a pay cut this year, don’t you? I thought they had to save money?
SS: What do you perceive to be the council’s reasons for this?
RL: They need to save money. Which is exactly what they wont be doing by forcing businesses into adminstration. Who is going to pay the business rates? No-one. So instead of having 20% of £30,000.00 they will get 0% because we simply cannot pay the 100%.
What might happen is that MelloMello’s building will have the lease taken on by a company that can afford it. What kind of company do you think that will be? A small, independent CIC which has built a business out of nothing? No. Probably the opposite.
SS: What are your next moves?
RL: My personal feelings are that the Council is sending a hugely hypocritical message. On the one hand attempting to brand the City as being so proud of its cultural and artistic heritage and on the other seeming to do everything it can to squash independent venues like Static and MelloMello.
I would eventually like our campaign to bring about change for all those in a similar situation to MelloMello. We need to mobilise fast and get this decision turned around.
We need as many people as possible to sign the petition. We need to put as much political pressure on the Council as possible. We need to demonstrate that the council’s continued havoc-wreaking with Liverpool’s grassroots artists and creatives will not stand. This campaign needs to be a floodgate.
Images by ilgiovaneWalter (Sobchak), sixeightthree and bartosz miskiewicz are used via CreativeCommons via Flickr and show MelloMello interior; Lovecraft at Free Rock’N’Roll and Loose Moose at Free Rock’N’Roll repsectively. Exterior image by MelloMello