Archive for the ‘News’ category

Emily Thornberry supports independent bookshops

May 16th, 2018

So eventually the letter I wrote to Emily Thornberry who is my MP for Islington South and Finsbury received a reply.
The Right Honourable Mel Stride is the Oxford University educated Conservative MP for Central Devon and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. His reply to Emily details some of the measures that were taken to remove the sting from the increased business rates which affect many smaller retailers. Thresholds were indeed increased and certain shops including some independent bookshops were able to escape some of the higher business rate increases. Credit where it’s due.

One particularly interesting thing that Mr Stride said was that he would be increasing the frequency of property revaluations from once every five years to once every three years. This is a reform he says to ensure that bills are fairer as they more closely reflect properties’ current rental values and relative changes in rents. It may be true that business rates are easy to collect, difficult to avoid and have a clear link with local authority spending. But if property values go up every 3 years and trigger similar increases in rents and in business rates, I suggest that the high street and local communities are going to find themselves losing out big time. In particular I think that independent High Street bookshops are going to carry on closing down as a result.
When fixed overheads increase not only because of higher rent, but doubly so because of higher rates, then it makes many independent High Street bookshops increasingly unprofitable.
Can a bookshop charge more for its £8.99 priced book? Can it add £1 more to the price of a new book for increased rent and another pound more for increased business rates? Since books are published with a recommended retail price printed clearly on them, and yet, since the net book agreement collapsed, any retailer can charge any amount they want below that price, it is like having a downwards only clause attached to the price of the products we booksellers are selling. Whereas the bookshop property leases we end up signing mainly have an upwards only clause for the rents and consequently for the business rates.
How is this fair to those independent book shops which you say the government recognises makes such a valuable contribution to the community?
Do you know what you should be doing Mr Stride?
-making 100% sure all independent book shops are indeed recognised for their special contribution and have a special business rates provision that is the equivalent to the business rates that charity shops pay. At present charities occupying commercial property are eligible for 80% mandatory relief, which local authorities can choose to top up by an additional 20%.
Emily said in her letter to me that the financial secretary to the Treasury hasn’t provided specific measures for independent bookshops.
Emily said to me that she appreciates this is not the response I was hoping for. Emily is right.
But I am going to write back to Emily to tell her what I think the response from The Right Honourable Mel Stride could and should have been. Why isn’t this the fair response that the valuable contribution independent bookshops make to the High Street and local Communities deserves: 80 to 100% business rates relief for independent bookshops in the UK?


#SaveBookshops e-petition

November 18th, 2016

Help save bookshops in future by signing before November 23rd

November 11th, 2016


I just started a Care2 petition: Slash bookshop Business Rates. If enough people sign my petition, we can make a difference. Right now I’ve got 2 signatures — will you help me collect more by adding your name, and then use the link below to share it on Facebook?

Here’s a link to the petition:
And here’s a link to share it on Facebook:

If there’s anyone you know who might be able to help me spread the word, please let me know. Thanks so much — I really appreciate your help!

This House Takes Note of the Cultural, Civic and Educational Significance of Libraries, Bookshops and Booksellers in the UK

October 15th, 2016

Weddings are usually associated with speeches, alcohol, dancing and laughter . This Thursday I attend my first House of Lords Debate. What associations does it leave me with? Speeches, symptoms of dehydration , eye-watering discomfort and shuffling disappointment.

While angels grip heraldic shields and black microphones bear witness in grids above, Lord Bird, who was ennobled after having launched and established the Big Issue, that dignifies homeless people, gives the chamber 15 minutes of lively, off-script, impassioned, looping anecdote touching on literacy in his past life.

It is followed by the fully scripted , slightly self congratulatory, cliche stuffed, red leather button-backed, middle of the road oratory, topped off with broken folk-dance defensive whitewash from Lord Ashton of Clyde.

For the first ever time in the UK, young people are now less literate than pensioners. But, having established the  importance of the book and the vulnerability of bookshops and libraries, where are the specific , costed suggestions for protecting them? In the absence of plans to improve the situation, calls for action are hollow and simply ignored. Amazon is rightly slammed, but they still owe UK billions in unpaid taxes.

No doubt the Earl Kinnoull’s Trust of Culture in Perth & Kinross, and the Bishop of St. Alban’s Rural Coalition have merit. Books Beyond Words, Cityread, the British Library, Books Are My Bag and many others are hugely worthwhile. What we are facing,though, is decimation of bookshops and libraries in the UK at a scale never before encountered. Unimaginable only ten years ago. Unacceptable to any UK citizen today.

How about Business Rate Reductions for Bookshops Not Bookies, as an initiative? Reduce Business Rates for all bookshops and increase them for all Pay-Day Loan Companies and Betting shops. Sadiq Khan, Philip Glanville, this is definitely one for you two.
How about new charities to seed-fund opening of new bookshops in the UK? Lord Bird and Baroness Rebuck, this is clearly one for you.

Both these suggestions would be fiscally neutral, and both readily achievable. Both would represent long-term solutions for the future- not populist knee-jerk reactions- but non-partisan frameworks for the benefit of all UK book lovers.

The libraries are already protected by law in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Funding needs ring-fencing- our taxes legally cover this. The government absolutely needs challenging for its inexcusable non-enforcement of the law of this land in respect of public libraries. Lord Collins of Hyde, this is your responsibility.

There are no illuminated green exit signs in the Lords Chamber. But bookshops, booksellers and libraries are being unceremoniously elbowed into obsolescence, unless all the people who could possibly do something to stop books facing a bitterly unfair and disastrously bleak future please step forward.

10 Feel-Good Books

March 26th, 2015

One question that we get asked at the bookshop, possibly more often than any other, is to recommend a heartwarming book; one that makes you feel better just by reading the first page. Now, since our natural proclivities tend to draw us towards books that trace the darker themes (armegeddon scenarios, suicide pacts – that sort of thing), we find this question a difficult one to answer.

In order to be better prepared we have put together a list of ten books guaranteed to warm even the stoniest of hearts. We hope you enjoy them.

And that the world doesn’t end before you get a chance to finish them…

- Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

To Kill a Mocking-Bird by Harper Lee

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Help by Katharyn Stockett

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

TfL- gaining lucrative piece of real estate at the expense of the existing shops under Old Street roundabout.

November 30th, 2014

I am the sole owner of the bookshop in Old Street roundabout. I have been there since 2002. I have run my bookshops without interruption since founding them in 1984, celebrating my 30th year as a prize winning independent bookshop proprietor this year.
1/ My comments on TfL’s road layout are essentially of disbelief: TfL should have had the traffic modelling available in a visually accessible format at the start of the consultation period. I am informed that it is not currently in a suitable format for release, and will not be available until Christmas time. I think this significantly undermines and invalidates TfL’s consultation through significant lack of appropriate information. It is impossible to judge how well the traffic will flow without this visual modelling. The modelling information is key to this consultation and it is essential that all information relevant to the traffic flow is available from day one of the consultation period. Lacking the modelling flow video is effectively disinformation.
2/ As a life-long cyclist and someone who daily cycled to Old Street for 12 years, I want to point out that the proposed cycle lanes are too narrow for the number of cyclists potentially using them. The speedier cyclists will feel impatient having to slow down to the pace of the slowest cyclists and waiting at even more red lights. This may lead to poor cycle lane and traffic lights discipline, that will, in turn, impact on the other vehicles using TfL’s proposed layout. I believe TfL’s proposals will potentially lead to a number of serious collisions and possibly fatal cycling accidents.
3/ There is a need for more bicycle parking spaces than have been sketched in. Cycle security is an important part of maintaining the number of cycle users. This under estimation of the need for cycle racks betrays an essential lack of proper commitment to the cycle user.
4/ I consider the northern pedestrian crossing is a compromise between serving people walking north along City Road and those walking east along Old Street. Where TfL depict the crossing in TfL’s pamphlet is not going to feel acceptable to those people walking to the bus stop travelling east along Old Street because of the extra time and distance it will take them to get there. I suggest that people will end up running over the road across the traffic in order to speed up their crossing. I think that the crossing should be moved further east to favour those walking to Hoxton and Shoreditch. Hoxton and Shoreditch are well known for their night clubs where alcohol is consumed to excess-I do not think the safety of inebriated revellers returning to the tube station has been accurately factored in when designing TfL’s proposed pedestrian crossing and in your decision to remove the completely safe subway access. TfL’s proposals will lead to increased pedestrian accidents.
5/ By removing subway access TfL will be directly affecting the flow of customers from my bookshop and thereby reducing the value of my business, my lease and my livelihood. My shop draws in customers from London and the UK, who come specifically to my business. But I also depend on a constant flow of passing customers. So I object to the closing off or the reduction of any of the existing subway access. It is not acceptable to effectively deny customers access to my business. I am deeply unhappy with the removal of the pedestrian ramps because that will also reduce pedestrian access.
6/ My business depends on the natural light shaft or light well that has existed since the roundabout was built and that is of great advantage not only to me and my business but to all users of the subways. I do not agree with any plans that would affect that crucial access to light, denying existing users what they have come to believe is there for the common benefit.
7/ The loading bay access road that currently exists would be lost in TfL’s proposals. The suggestion is to build a new loading bay. However, the siting of this new bay would be within the congestion zone- currently our loading facilities are outside the congestion zone. The financial implications are potentially very large: £12 per day extra for every delivery, on every weekday of every year from the implementation of your plans. Currently I would expect to receive in the region of 5-10 deliveries from different people or companies every weekday. The loading bay needs to be excluded from the congestion zone or relocated on a part of the proposed scheme that is outside.
8/ Access for shop deliveries and for putting out rubbish will be unacceptably inconvenienced in your proposals. Currently I have use of a dedicated service lift and lift area that is immediately adjacent to the dedicated and remote loading bay at street level. TfL’s proposal is wholly inadequate as a like-for-like replacement. Firstly the new lift would be shared with the general public. This is inappropriate and may lead to accidents, when, for example, I am receiving a pallet of boxes of books and the pallet accidentally knocks into a passenger because pallets are obviously cumbersome and hard to steer accurately in crowded situations. Traders using the lift with large quantities of bulky,smelly and dirty rubbish, do not travel comfortably in lifts side by side with smart commuters, disabled people and the elderly. The existing lift is already used at capacity during busy times, without any public usage- the general public will make demand for a single lift unacceptable.
Secondly TfL’s proposed lift is much further away from their proposed loading bay and may or may not involve taking goods up or down from one level to another; it will also not be isolated from the public, as it currently is for good reason.
The existing shops have no back areas for storing waste or rear entrances for processing deliveries; your proposals would make dealing with accepting deliveries and taking out rubbish worse than they already are and they would become intolerable unless provision is made for a second dedicated lift, for example, closer to the loading bay.
9/ The maintenance and security of Old Street station has historically been complex because of the cross authority confusion and has led to poor standards in the past and present. I see no written commitment in TfL’s proposals to them stepping up to accept responsibility for providing unbroken security and maintenance for the proposed areas above and below ground. Due to the location of Old Street roundabout, the need for cleaning and for security against anti-social behaviour is far greater than in many other locations in London. I would not be willing for this commitment to go unacknowledged in TfL’s proposals.
10/ Since temporary retail units are proposed on the surface of the roundabout, I would like to see assurances that no other bookshop would be allowed to rent one of the new spaces taking unfair advantage of the twelve years of goodwill that I have built up in my bookshop below ground.
11/ I am unaware of what provisions are proposed for mitigating the disruption to my business during construction. Perhaps some of the more disruptive, noisy or dusty work can be undertaken late in the evenings, at nights or during the weekends. I need to see more detail in the proposed building processes.
12/ There is no mention of my shop or any other neighbouring shops in TfL’s proposals. I believe that TfL have a duty of care as landlord to these shops to protect their livelihoods as much as they possibly can. I want TfL to enshrine that duty of care into their proposals since our customers, staff and ourselves, the owners, come to this site every day and will be profoundly effected by the construction and by the detailed design of what TfL are proposing. I am unhappy and find it unreasonable that so many key components of TfL’s proposal are subject to change or uncertainty. Supporting, encouraging and protecting existing businesses and their employees is enshrined in all the strategic literature on all building developments in this part of London. TfL need to incorporate support for existing businesses into their written proposals. If TfL continue to ignore existing businesses in their written proposals they are acting outside the spirit if not the specific legal undertakings of strategies that have been legally agreed.

I believe TfL’s proposals have the praiseworthy merit of looking at cyclist safety, but are all to easy to deconstruct. The only clear beneficiaries, when the detail is examined (as much as possible without the vital traffic flow modelling video), are TfL- gaining access to a lucrative piece of real estate that is currently an important part of the service infrastructure of the existing shops under the roundabout.

TfL to Sweep Away Independent Shops at Old Street

November 4th, 2014

My meeting with TfL suggests that there will very soon be a public consultation about the street layout. It is a very complex layout aiming to ensure a regular flow of vehicles through Old Street, with new bicycle lanes. It also means a larger exit from the ticket hall towards Starbucks; it also possibly implies the levelling of the roundabout and rebuilding more expensive shops at the cost of the existing shops. TfL are not interested in giving leases on the new shops to the existing businesses. The existing businesses are just being asked to close down and go away. If we agree to go we will not be allowed to disclose details of our leaving- a ‘gagging order’. Much of the latter has been left open to interpretation- the only settled scheme being the street alterations (“peninsularisation”). This uncertainty makes running a business much more difficult. The lack of offers of alternative accommodation is a failure by TfL to adhere to the principles laid out in all the development plans. This is a real threat to those people currently employed in and who run the businesses in Old Street Station. TfL want to exploit what is potentially a billion pound plot of land by firstly clearing away the existing occupants- the bookshop, gift shop, key cutters, Nincomsoup, two cafes and flower shop. Almost inevitably us independents will be replaced by chain stores with larger premises paying premium rents to sell the same repetitive things found in every high street in Britain. You may or you may not want to support us, but it looks like we’ll be swept aside in December 2015, save a miracle intervention.

In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

Damned Cycle Accident Statistics

July 23rd, 2014

Cycle accident statistics only record incidents of death and of ” serious” accident; and “serious” accidents are only recorded if the victim stays in hospital overnight.

How many cyclists in London like me have been victims of serious accidents but have not stayed in hospital overnight?

I was knocked down on a cycle route by a driver hitting me off my bicycle eleven weeks ago. Since then I have made sixteen visits to hospital on separate occasions, I have had an operation under general anaesthetic, still have my left arm immobile in a sling (I have at least six more weeks more to go in a cast and I am left-handed)- how is such a disruptive accident caused by a driver who has subsequently been sent by the Police onto a course to improve their driving, not serious?

Do you think my accident should be re-classified as serious (at the moment it hasn’t been considered statistically whatsoever)?

Does ignoring the type of accident I had completely skew the picture of the safety of cycling in London?

Please tell me if you had a similar bike accident or know of one?

I think “serious” accidents should reflect people who cannot work properly after so many weeks and who have been left fearful of cycling to work in future.

I’d like to take this moment to thank all my friends and customers at my book shop who showed concern for my recovery and apologise for the length of time it is taking.

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout Knocked Down

June 6th, 2014

A month ago a car from a side road smacked into my bicycle at 8am without looking and knocked me down. I didn’t open my bookshop. I couldn’t work at  my own business premises for the entire first week. The aftermath took hold.  Five hospital visits later, my situation remains unresolved.

At the time of impact, the right hand cycle handlebar gored me. My stomach muscles ripped aside and my liver and colon were bruised. A scan on the day showed spots on my liver and the pain was intense. 4 weeks later the pain remains but has diminished. I phoned my GP 3 days running but now have to anxiously sit out the weekend to wait for a comment on the latest CT triple scan.

A  hospital physio diagnosed my left wrist as possibly fractured.  I am left-handed. It’d been in severe pain for 3 weeks. Two visits later, my wrist was in plaster and my scaphoid can finally begin to heal over the forthcoming 6 weeks.

Exhaustion is usually a temporary state; but, since my road accident, it grips me from when I wake until I sleep at night. My sleep is fitful now whereas I was regularly the soundest sleeper you could imagine.

I cannot drive a car or ride a bike; can only write or perform any fine motor skills with my left hand with severe discomfort.  Lifting is painful for my wrist and my abdomen.  My social life revolved around sport- now my football, squash, badminton and tennis kit are unused.

The fact is that I am not a physical or emotional wreck, but I feel like one; other people’s worse circumstances & suffering  to one side, the aftermath of my bike accident has been profound for me. It does help for me to write feelings down when I feel particularly low.

I hope my conscientious, light-hearted,  relaxed, well-exercised,  old Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout returns in the next month or so.