A TREE surgeon says his business has dropped by 90 per cent in the last two months, due to what he calls 'unfair competition' from Reading Borough Council (RBC).

Jonathan Smith, of Big Heart Tree Care, has been operating in the area for many years, but has seen a sudden drop in enquiries ever since the council started advertising their own arboricultural services.

He says that although healthy competition is no bad thing, he feels the council is using resources to advertise its services that are not available to other businesses.

Mr Smith said: "It first came to my attention when I saw the services being advertised on the side of council vans. These vans weren't being used to carry out tree services, yet they were advertising it.

"I investigated and found that the council was placing information about its services on a website that people would have to look at in order to check or challenge a tree preservation order.

"The final straw came when I received my council tax bill, and a leaflet about the council's tree cutting service was included. That just isn't fair practice, I don't have the opportunity to advertise my services in that way.

"My biggest concern is that the council is using public resources to fund advertising for a commercial service.

"I am not the only company to have seen business fall, I know a lot of people in the industry and they are all saying the same thing."

A spokesman for RBC's Commercial Services said: "Under powers conferred by legislation, the Council offers a number of discretionary services to residents on a cost recovery basis, including landscaping, grounds maintenance and tree works.

"These services are advertised on the Council’s work vehicles, website and promotional leaflets, which are distributed with Council Tax bills. The Council does not, however, promote its services outside the borough and does not currently have any plans to increase advertising channels.

"We are sorry to hear Mr Smith has seen a 90 per cent decline in enquiries to his business over the last two months but we do not feel this is as a result of the Council’s promotional activities and may be indicative of the broader market trends. The Council has been providing commercial tree services for more than three years and only about 10 per cent of recent web-based enquiries for this service were prompted by promotional leaflets.

"The Council aims to act fairly and ethically and routinely advises prospective clients to obtain three other quotes when giving our own quote and will not knowingly undercut local businesses with our rates. For the past month, the Council’s website has explicitly advised residents to consider approaching local contractors for tree work because the Arboricultural Team is fully booked at least two months ahead.

"Income from discretionary services is ploughed back into the Council services at a time of severe ongoing cuts in government funding to local councils."