MelloMello: “We need to mobilise fast”

mello int

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.

You can sign the petition agains the council’s decision here and join the relevant Facebook and Twitter pages

www.mellomello.co.uk

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

  • http://twitter.com/JonathanDeamer Jonathan Deamer

    It’d be really sad if Mello Mello were to close – it’s a great place. People interested in its plight may be interested in the council’s guidelines for the business rates relief available to non-profits like MM: http://liverpool.gov.uk/Images/CharityRateReliefGuidance.pdf

    I guess these were the criteria Rob was talking about? If so, there are loads of ways the venue goes above and beyond the needs of these criteria, but I wonder if this was a sticking point: “The balance between sporting and social activities will be an important factor– the existence of a bar or catering facilities should not in themselves preclude the granting of relief but must not exceed 50% of total income”.

    Either way, the final criterion, “The financial impact on the City Council given that agreed budgets cannot be exceeded”, does unfortunately seem to give them carte blanche to do what they like.

  • tommy

    The punters certainly pay full rates on the booze there.

  • Simon

    This is not the same as the council’s fuck ups with Static and buskers as some people are claiming, they’re both about the council making a judgement about what is acceptable. This is just a financial issue, a consequence of recession and cut backs.

    If people want to express their anger about the council having to spend less money (and/or get more in) there are far more worthy cuts for them to get worked up about rather than getting all hysterical because they can’t rent a cheap room for yoga.

  • Aiden

    Although there may be more viable petitions to sign out there above this one that doesn’t mean that we should lay down and accept defeat. I’ll bet there are a lot of people on this petition that also sign the much more serious ones but this isn’t about ranking what’s most important in the world. It’s about saving one of the few genuinely artistically diverse buildings left in Liverpool. The only reason the city council want to shut it down is financial? i.e.- they’re not making enough money. Well some things are more important than money and when councils start to realise this they may see a return to their precious coffers in the future as Mello Mello offers a gateway into audiences and artists that other venues dare not take the risk. I’d say they do a lot more than “rent a cheap room for yoga”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=633161274 Graham Holland

    Sorry Simon, but it’s exactly the same at the Static and busker debacles. In each of the three cases it’s about Liverpool City Council (councillors and officials) not understanding the real, beating, creative heart of this city, and the value that places like MelloMello add. It’s almost as if the Capital of Culture year never happened!

    If the decision was made purely on a financial basis, then that will only stack up if the Council already has a company waiting in the wings to take over the building and pay full rates. Otherwise (as has already been said) they’ll be trading 20% of £30,000 for 100% of £0. With so many city centre premises lying empty, do we really want another adding to the list?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.davies.3975 Richard Davies

    To be honest I was actually quite surprised to hear Mello Mello actually got the rate relief in the first place. As much as I love it, is is still overwhelmingly a bar/music venue. That is where most of it’s income is derived. As such, it is very similar to other venues in terms of purpose and the not for profit element can be overplayed. CICs can pay everybody involved a salary and in some cases can also pay dividends to investors if they choose to have shares. As such ,there is plenty of scope for everybody involved to make a profit. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it means that if the company rules allow profit (even if no one ever takes any and the people involved didn’t even realise that the rules were written in a manner that does allow it), then rate relief can be denied.

    The issue of income does crop up a lot with charities too, where they begin to diversify their income generation to be sustainable. Unfortunately, at certain points, some of their income generation e.g. a bar can actually become “too profitable”, meaning the charity/not for profit has to either stop doing the trading that makes it the money or set up another company to do it for them. Running a bar is not seen as a viable “majority” income stream for charities or those seeking rate relief (rightly or wrongly). Otherwise all bars would start going for it. If Mello Mello were getting 51% of its income from donations/grants and 49% from the bar/takings, then there would be less of an issue. Perverse really as the rules limit the sustainability potential of charities and not for profits.

    Notwidthstanding any of that, LCC would be better off having some some income from them than none at all, so common sense would dictate that there’s a deal to be done here.

    Also, the place does help broaden the offer around town, which is a good thing. Not any better than what else if offered to other target audiences (as taste is an entirely subjective judgement), but different.

  • Dom Sutherland

    If I’m right, the three Mello Mello directors earn £10,000 a year each from this Not For Profit enterprise. Anyway, lets think of some ways we can raise the £30,000 a year they’d need to balance the books and become a viable business.

  • Thierry

    where’s the bleeding petition?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ SevenStreets
  • Ellis

    Really good comment here Richard, perhaps it’s time for Councils to look at a more flexible rates system, as you say 20% of something is better than 80% of nothing and the work Mello have put into creating a space out of a ‘brownfield’ space should really factor into rates relief. Though it would increase admin costs it would surely promote long term growth of businesses and spaces, sustainability and a varied offer really is key for a vibrant city centre.

  • Ellis

    I think a lot of anger lies in the council making pushing such a huge rates increase on a space which without Mello having moved there would have inevitably not been taken on and would have been bringing no money into the city coffers at all.

    I think there’s a great deal of grievance with the lack of support in sustaining spaces in the city, the instant gratification of another chain bar that’ll last a few years has nowhere near the amount of benefit of the deferred gratification of a long-term art space that can grow organically and work for and with the community over a longer period.

    If Mello goes it could well be the beginning of a further chain of cuts which will create a squeaky clean gentrified city centre that no longer actually serves the community, it’s like Venice, nobody lives there anymore as it’s only purpose is to cater for tourists, would you really want to live somewhere which served this purpose?

    It’s a much wider issue than one bar/venue/artspace, it’s a useful staging point for a discussion on what the people of the city want and how a space can actually be more benefit to a city than just through financial means. Looking solely at any space financially is a very 2D way of quantifying it’s ‘usefulness’.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to go off on one there,

    TL;DR: The council should look at each case individually and not just on a financial level to gauge the benefits of any given space in the city.