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Food co-op settles rates bill and is ‘back on track again’
THE threat of court action has been lifted at the People’s Supermarket in Cowley Road.
Shoppers can once again get fresh meat and bread at the store.
Organisers at the volunteer-run store say the Oxford Mail’s coverage of their financial plight helped bring it back from the brink.
The co-operative stopped selling some of its fresh food last month while an uncertain financial future hung over its head.
It had failed to pay its August and September business rates on time and was ordered by Oxford City Council to pay the rest for the full financial year – a total of £5,024 – by Tuesday, September 3, as a result.
It was told that if it did not pay the full business rate, it could have been taken to court.
But after it paid off the two £628 instalments, the city council has decided to let the supermarket keep its right to monthly payments.
Co-director of the supermarket, Anton Saverimuttu, said the decision has allowed the co-operative to sell fresh food again.
He said: “It’s good and we can focus on other things, such as selling meat after the summer break.
“We stopped selling it for the whole of August because it gets quiet on the Cowley Road then and we were not sure how our finances would work out.
“We were also not ordering bread.”
He added that Cornfield Bakery, a major creditor, is being “really helpful” in letting them buy bread on a pay-as-you-go basis.
“Things are looking better for us,” he said.
Mr Saverimuttu believes the city council’s decision to let the supermarket continue paying in monthly instalments came about because of the Mail’s coverage.
He said: “I think the Oxford Mail articles, which have highlighted the not-for-profit work we do, have helped the council agree to us continuing our monthly instalments.”
A city council spokesman said: “We can confirm that the People’s Supermarket has now paid the instalments for August and September.
“Because their payments are up-to-date, we have agreed to the supermarket continuing paying in instalments.
“They would only face court if they default on future payments.”
The not-for-profit business has about 600 members.
It is run by volunteers who pay £12 a year to have their say in its development.
If members volunteer for a four-hour shift every four weeks, they get a 10 per cent discount on food.
Nena Parkes, a board member, said takings at the co-operative had dropped from £1,200 a day in May to £400 a day in August.
This was because of an apparent drop in the number of shoppers on the street over the summer.
But Mr Saverimuttu said that, due to making nine paid members of staff redundant in August, the supermarket is now turning a corner, rather than going further into debt.
It has debts of about £50,000, of which its members are owed about £24,500.