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Camden Lock Books: ‘Closure of bookshop is loss of a high street jewel’

Big Issue’s founder slams business rates hike

21 June, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Closing after 20 years: Camden Lock Books

THE founder of The Big Issue has criticised the council and government after a well-known independent book shop announced it will close after two decades, blaming rent and rate increases.

Lord John Bird said he was appalled to hear that Camden Lock Books, a place he has visited often, will close next month.

As the Tribune reported last week, the shop’s owner Jason Burley said that the business had been devastated by rising rates and disruption caused by the Old Street roundabout redevelopment.

Lord John Bird

Lord Bird said: “With the closure of Camden Lock Books, the borough has lost a high-street jewel. At a time when other countries are opening libraries and supporting booksellers, this should send alarm bells ringing in both local and national government.”

The cross-bench peer has been an advocate of bookshops for years and he helped relaunch the Independent Bookshops Alliance, a group of shop owners trying to tackle the dominance of giants Amazon and Waterstones.

He added: “If we can slash business rates for pubs, why can’t we scrap them for those brilliant beacons of hope, Britain’s independent bookshops? Isn’t it time to level the playing field with Amazon?”

Business rates are a tax on property which is calculated by its value on the open market. Online businesses such as Amazon pay fewer rates as their warehouses are situated outside of towns in areas with low-value property, unlike bookshops, which are often on high streets.

Shop owner Jason Burley 

Mr Burley, who opened Camden Lock Books in the Old Street station subway in 2001, said: “I think one of the most gratifying things about running this shop is getting to know John Bird, now Lord Bird. He started coming in here occasionally as a customer.

He took up this thing about rates because he is very interested in bookshops and libraries and he used it in his maiden speech in the House of Lords. So I am grateful for that.”

Islington’s finance chief Cllr Asima Shaikh said: “We are very sorry to hear that Camden Lock Books is closing. Our inclusive economy officers will be reaching out to the business to offer support and scope options. There needs to be a fundamental review of the rates system and we have called on the government to introduce a much fairer system to stop ‘bricks and mortar’ shops in our community being hit.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases.”

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