Update on Business Improvement Districts

Update on Business Improvement Districts


Jacquie Reilly, Director of the National BIDs Advisory Service, has penned the guest article for the autumn 2012 edition of Rating in Brief.

Since the introduction of Business Improvement District (BID) Regulations in 2004 there have been over 160 successful BID ballots with an average of 74% of businesses voting in favour in their locations.

Legislation in England and Wales was followed in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland in 2007 and the BID Act for Northern Ireland passed its second reading in Stormont last month. The government will be consulting at the end of this year on the introduction of legislation to allow property owner BIDs and cross boundary BIDs. Also, the recent Portas Review recommends the creation of Super BIDs, to be given additional powers such as Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Why have BIDs proved to be such a popular model?

The process of BID development ensures a direct conversation with local stakeholders in order to develop a plan which recognises the local context and issues and offers local solutions. A BID delivers a working partnership where everyone brings something to the table, a breadth of engagement and tangible results. A failure to do so would mean the end of the BID as it is totally accountable with a maximum life span of five years after which, however successful, it goes back to a ballot to secure a further mandate before it can continue.

BIDs are delivering a variety of projects and services including marketing and events, safety, security and environmental activity and collective procurement for businesses. There is strong evidence of the positive impact they have had in ensuring local businesses are more viable and sustainable. The BID is funded by a levy on businesses which is collected via the National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) system and passed onto the BID.

Will BIDs continue to develop and grow?

BIDs are perhaps in danger of becoming a victim of their own success. At a time when money is hard to come by organisations have looked at businesses and the BID model and thought this may be a good way to pay for activities. An example of this is the late night levy. From 31 October this year local authorities will be able to introduce a levy on businesses selling alcohol after midnight with 30% going to the local authority and 70% to the police to spend as they see appropriate. After extensive lobbying the government has agreed to include the option of exempting businesses in BID areas but it is not compulsory. The stark contrast between a BID delivering services to address issues the local business community have identified and voluntarily agreed to fund through a democratic voting process and the imposed late night levy is not lost on businesses. Many have already indicated that faced with a compulsory levy with no say in how it is spent they feel they will have no choice but to vote against future BIDs despite their track record of success.

The cost of doing business is escalating everyday and businesses have to cut their cloth accordingly. We want them to be proactive in taking responsibility for improving the area they work in but this needs to be achieved by engaging with them rather than just demanding more money. There is no doubt that BIDs can and do have a role to play in rejuvenating our high streets but we will need to ensure this model is not diluted or lost in the clamour to find funding.

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