Westminster City Council has called for a “stronger” economic crime bill and reform of business rates to officially bring a halt to American candy and souvenir stores which continue to litter Oxford Street.
“We are dealing here with a sophisticated operation which is skilled at exploiting UK legal loopholes,” Cllr Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, told City A.M.
Hug explained that there is a “glaring lack of governance” around setting up companies such as the candy stores in the UK with only “cursory checks on who the directors are”.
Currently, the council’s chief objection is that it is harder to get a local authority library lending card than to register a company at Companies House.
Westminster has been attempting to crack down on the candy stores which have become a brutal eye sore in the capital’s most popular shopping district.
In the last 15 months the council has recovered £1m worth of items that were deemed suspect are either fake or potentially dangerous – this included disposable vape pens which “contained excessive levels of nicotine”.
However, if shoppers walked from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch they would still pass some 29 ‘candy stores’ which are still in operation.
During the pandemic, Oxford Street became swarmed by a large number of American-style candy stores opening, with these illicit stores often now occupying three retail outlets in a row.
“Westminster City Council has energetically pursued unscrupulous traders who sell unsafe or fake goods and fail to pay business rates, but we have always maintained this is a whack-a-mole activity,” Hug continued.
The council has also called for a reform of the business rates which would allow for more frequent revaluations, with stronger information requirements to reduce the level of appeals made by these shops.
“High streets are the hearts of our communities, and should be supported, not penalised – yet the current system does exactly this and drives the wrong behaviours.” the council said.