News / 11 May, 2011

Small businesses slam Hackney Council over Clissold Park café contract

Local traders voice fury at being ruled out of the lucrative deal as only companies with an annual turnover of £1m or more are deemed eligible to bid

Clissold House

Eighteenth century Clissold House, as foreseen under the new plans. Image: Hackney Council

Hackney Council has come under fire for barring small businesses from competing to run cafés in an award-winning park.

Clissold Park in Stoke Newington is midway through a multi-million pound refurbishment programme that has already been beset by a string of controversies including the deaths of three of the park’s deer in the space of just three months.

Now local businesses have slammed the Town Hall over the tendering of the contract run catering services in the park’s Grade II listed Georgian mansion, Clissold House, and the refurbished Pump House kiosk.

The council claims it wants to help small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive, but it has banned all caterers with a turnover of less than £1million from making a bid for the lucrative contract, placing it out of reach of many local operators.

Kate Nelson, who runs Hackney-based social enterprise MEND, said: “It makes me so angry. This would have been such a great opportunity for Hackney Council to support local businesses or someone who is running a charity that can run a café. I can’t see any of the cafés in Church Street being able to demonstrate that kind of turnover, especially in the year we’ve just had. It seems like a wasted opportunity.”

Alex Ross, co-owner of the Spence Bakery in Church Street, called the requirement of a £1m per annum turnover “ridiculous”.

He said: “It sounds more like an opportunity for a chain – a Nando’s-type operation or something along those lines. It seems a bit unfair to be excluding local businesses from having a go. We’re an accomplished business. We could manage to run that place if we’d thought about it, but we would have been barred from it.”

Katharine Tasker, owner of the Lemon Monkey café and deli in Stoke Newington High Street, said she expected the contract would be awarded to “one of the big boys”.

She said: “It seems a shame and not in keeping with the villagey atmosphere that’s going on here. This area has had a history of lobbying against chains and so far it’s worked fairly effectively, so you would have thought the council would have been sensitive to that.”

The Citizen contacted a local catering company with a turnover in excess of £1 million a year, whose manager agreed that the council’s requirement seemed excessive and would probably only be achievable for a central London company or large catering firm.

Last month (April) Hackney Council defended the requirement, saying it had a duty to award the contract to a “sustainable business” able to cope with events of up to 200 people.

The row is just the latest in a string which have dogged the landmark refurbishment, set to be completed later this year.

When the work began in 2009, some park users questioned the practicality of a new slope being constructed in front of Clissold House, warning that the steepness of the gradient would make it difficult for people to sit on the grass without falling over.

There were also objections to the new skate park and concerns over future funding for the maintenance of the green space as well as staffing levels.

Earlier this year protests were held outside the park zoo after two animals in the deer enclosure suffered fatal injuries during dog attacks and another died of shock as the diggers did their work.

Last month the Citizen revealed that 17 permanent posts in the borough’s parks are set to be axed.

An internal report by the council’s head of green spaces also outlined plans for increased reliance on commercial events and privatisation of the maintenance of trees.

Asked about the requirement of a £1million per year turnover, a council spokeswoman cited the huge cost of refurbishing Clissold House, adding that the appointed company may be asked to make a capital contribution towards the café fit out.

An advertisement posted on catering industry websites states: “The London Borough of Hackney seeks expressions of interest from caterers with a turnover in excess of £1 million per annum for the operation of a new café in the recently restored Grade II listed Clissold House. Set in the grounds of Clissold Park, Clissold House provides a stunning setting for this café which the council is keen to operate with the highest standards. The appointed operator will also manage the Pump House kiosk in Clissold Park and may have the opportunity to cater for functions within the House. The ability to cater for functions and events of 20-200 people will therefore need to be evidenced.”

Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services said: “With the catering contract at Clissold House, our priority is to ensure that the company chosen is financially viable with the relevant experience to provide and sustain the level and quality of service we all want to see. We sought professional advice on the sort of criteria that would be appropriate for this opportunity. We advertised locally, received expressions of interest from local companies but unfortunately, on this occasion, they were unable to proceed any further.

“In the future, it is likely that there will be other opportunities in the council’s parks that companies of different sizes will be able to bid for.”


Clissold Park cafe re-opens

Protestors picket Clissold Park ‘zoo’

Clissold Park: time to close the ‘zoo’

Vet slams Hackney Council over Clissold Park deer deaths

/ 11 May, 2011
  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    Hackney Council excluding most local, independently-owned businesses from the tendering process, to the probable benefit of one of the large chains…is anyone surprised?

  • Hacknioca

    If the Council needs someone to cope with large events, then why not just make it a stipulation of the bid and contract that “smaller businesses” must have proven/viable capability of engaging larger partners to cover events ?

    How many events will there be a year ?

  • Big Government Hackney have a contempt for small businesses. People like Spirit of Broadway Market, the shopkeepers on Dalston Lane and almost any market trader know that. Their regeneration plans are chain store led, parking controls favour large corporates and they are screwing small shops with exorbitant rises in shop front trading.

    Rapacious big companies are welcome in Hackney only because Labour is willing to stand on street corners and show a bit of leg.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    This is also why the residents/council taxpayers of Hackney need to keep a close eye on every planning decision the council makes, and be alert to public assets being sold off to big business.

  • Of course they do have to be very careful about who they take on for the job. Because I’ll be first in the queue to complain to the council if they’ve spent all that money doing the place up only to take on some nice, friendly local people who it turns out can’t provide either the quality or the service (anyone remember queuing for 20 minutes every time you wanted a coffee in the old cafe?). Very few of the local food businesses in our area have a proven track record running a place that busy, and with the catering as well so should they be entrusted with the centre-piece of our new park?

    OK, so that’s the devil’s-advocate bit out of the way. It may sound like I agree with Hackney Council on this but I don’t. I think they’re being lazy and unimaginative, opting for the easy option of vetting suppliers on the basis of size instead of taking it as a first principle that of course it should be a local business if at all possible (and, given the number of cafes and restaurants around here, it clearly is). With that in place they would then make the tendering process more flexible and able to accommodate businesses who want to scale up a successful existing operation to fit the park, working with the businesses to make sure their proposal stands up. Requires more work / imagination from the council but it would make it look like they actually give a monkey’s about local businesses, beyond our capacity to make up the short-fall in their funding with increased business rates and parking charges.

  • Adam

    I’d like to see Andrew Boff offer an opinion that wasn’t just the opposite of whatever the Council is doing.

  • Hakon Eyot

    “anyone remember queuing for 20 minutes every time you wanted a coffee in the old cafe?”

    Yep and having to speak Spanish to get your order understood

  • Adam

    They should require a business plan from every bid (from a large or small company) and only disqualify those whose business plans do not seem viable. If a small company can handle the demands of running the catering at the park, then they should be considered. It should be about what they can offer, the price it will cost us, their resources and their ideas.

    I see Nando’s was mentioned. God forbid that’s anything more than just an ‘example’ of what we might get…

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    Perhaps the council ought to put the running of the ‘zoo’ out to tender as well – a private contractor could hardly make a worse job of it than they are at the moment!

  • NoopyDoopy

    Support local businesses

  • Drew

    I’m glad to see a proper, reliable organisation will be running the cafe.

    The last thing Stokey needs is another patronising, over-priced ‘organic, free-range, untouched by human hands, we’re so micro-local’ cafe where the hordes of mummies, daddies, little prince and princesses will congregate and presume the world revolves around them rather than the lots of happy, content people who have chosen not to be burdened with kids.

    Have a great weekend!

  • Adam

    @Drew – lol!

  • pat

    Drew, watch out for those so called Stokeys who protested about the bars in Shoreditch. If they take up the fight for the small businesses you will end up with a lovely little tea room running at a loss.

  • Adam

    @Pat – yeah, because Clissold Park needs a titty bar. Give me a break.

    Although I support the right of women to strip for money, I think the people who go to those places are losers. So, although the people who protested so loudly and worked so hard to get the clubs banned may irritate me, at least they were motivated by trying to make a positive difference (even if it was misguided and a bit puritanical). That has got to be better (or at least no worse than) being lonely, sad and horny.

  • pat

    Adam.I was trying to make the point that most of the objections put forward were from residents of Stoke Newington

  • Adam

    Sorry. But I think I’d be happier to see the residents of Stoke Newington take an interest in what’s going on in Clissold Park rather than have something foisted on them (or us) by the Council.

    There has to be a way to make sure we all get a good deal without it turning into some ridiculous vegan cafe or something.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    @Adam: what’s the matter – can’t avoid some oh-so-fashionable sneering and finger-pointing, just because someone who spoke up in defence of the Shoreditch strip pubs has posted an opinion about the tender for the cafe? You’ve made some valid points on this topic, so let’s not drag the discussion down to a school playground level…

    There’s a wider issue here, which is Hackney Council’s overall attitude to licencing and planning matters, and their apparent willingness to embrace big business as the solution to a lack of revenue (with all that entails), regardless of the views of residents. Don’t do their dirty work for them with these kind of divide-and-rule comments!

  • pat

    Adam this is whats been argued earlier, with the council having a vision and it doesnt matter what any one thinks.Where do you go with this?

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    @Pat: a fair, transparent tendering system (as Adam suggests) would avoid any eighties-style sops to tokenism.

  • pat

    GSOB,Thats all that most people want.We know that public opinion doesnt count for much in this borough and the council does what they like.

  • Adam

    @GSOB – sorry about that. I guess I get irritated that the same people keep bringing up the stupid Shoreditch bar issue on unrelated threads. This has nothing to do with it and the tender for catering services at Clissold Park (and any local opposition to the process) should be discussed on its own merits.

    The Council did what the Council did re Shoreditch. People have myriad opinions on that issue, and we shouldn’t discount opinions because of the Shoreditch issue (or even link the two issues at all).

    It’s over… get over it. Or at least leave those comments on the appropriate threads. If some SN leftie has an opnion about who is potentially going to be serving him a cafe latte in Clissold Park, then good for him. Even if he has a difference in opinion about whether or not women are being exploited in lap dancing pubs in Shoreditch.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    @Adam: are these issues REALLY unrelated though, or are they related to a wider planning/privatisation agenda for the borough? Having read the revised version of the ‘nil’ policy myself, it’s apparent to me that large chunks of it (certainly the preamble) were copied and pasted from other Council documents, and that an overall plan for Hackney (with a provisional deadline of 2018) has reached some kind of draft stage, albeit with crucial details missing.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    Then there’s the question of consultation, and whether or not Hackney is going to pay any real attention to the views of residents, or simply plough on with its plans regardless.

  • Adam

    @GSOB – sure, but slagging off Stoke Newington lefites who oppose strip clubs is not related.

    …and as much as I worry about the Council forcing its agenda on the residents of the borough, I think caring THAT much about a strip club is sad. And boring.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    @Adam: did Pat even bring up the subject strip pubs? No, he simply alluded to bars in Shoreditch IN GENERAL and the attitude of a particular, very vocal resident of Stoke Newington towards them, i.e. that s/he’d like to see as many of them as possible shut down, and that s/he feels confident that s/he has the Council’s long-term backing on this issue.

  • The Great Smell Of Brute

    As for Stoke Newington’s arriviste Blairite clique, I’m sure they’d like to get their own way with regard to a whole range of issues…


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