Do we need more Business Improvement Districts?

Do we need more Business Improvement Districts?

Business Improvement Districts; the clue to what they are meant to do is in the name. Businesses with a stake in the local community,  working together to improve the district.   There are over 300 BIDS (Business Improvement Districts) across the country and their proliferation is down to many factors, including a resurgence in civic pride and the need to take a cold hard look at the state of our high streets.    This article will answer some of the burning questions:  What is a BID? What does a BID actually do? Is there a BID in my town and how would I know one if I saw one?   So read on!

What is a BID?

A Bid is a group of businesses – and other local stakeholders who have got together with the aim of improving the town centre or business park. The British Bids definition is that “a Business Improvement District (BID) is a business-led and business funded body formed to improve a defined commercial area”.

In the UK BIDS have a 5 year term, after which the BID must seek a new mandate from the businesses inside the BID area.  Businesses inside the BID area contribute to the BID via a levy on the rateable value of their premises.  So the levy payers are the businesses and other organisations who pay a levy to the BID.   The levy is then used to pay for services over and above that which would normally be provided by the local authority, police etc.   And so the area is improved.

How do businesses get to have their say about whether or not a levy should be paid?   Well, a vote is held, in which all the businesses in the BID area get to vote on a business plan.   The business plan sets out how their levy payment will be spent, so this is important!   If the vote is successful then the BID has a mandate from the businesses to deliver on a business plan to improve the area.

What does a BID do?

Red Potato has worked with several BIDs across England, where BIDs organise events such as Christmas Tree lighting, make the town look appealing by organising hanging baskets, coordinate work to reduce anti-social behaviour and keep the area clean.   Sounds simple enough and shouldn’t this happen anyway?  Well someone has to pay for this.
In previous years the local authority would have had the resources to invest in the town centre.   But things have changed.  Local authorities are have to make difficult decisions on how to fund the growing demands for adult social care, and costly support for vulnerable young people.  Councils can no longer afford the investment needed in the town centre, due the austerity cuts in funding.

Maybe the Council never should have had the job of  “managing” the town centre.  Commentators are quick to mock the local authority run safe, sanitised events.  Now is the time to bring some business innovation to the district!   A BID enables local businesses to decide and direct what they want in their area.  Businesses are represented; they have “skin in the game”;  a voice in issues affecting their trading area and most importantly, the BID levy money is ring-fenced for use only in the BID area.

BIDs can be a way to galvanise the local community to work together to come up with practical solutions to increase footfall and spend in an area. But they are NOT a silver bullet.  A BID will not reverse years of decline, changes in shopping habits and ruthless efficiency of the Internet behemoths.

Is there a BID in my town and how would I know?

BIDs provide a local focus and in many cases a distinctive local brand.   The majority of BIDs exist in town and city centres, however they are also in industrial, commercial and mixed-use locations.   The average BID comprises 300-400 hereditaments (rateable properties), but there some with around 50 hereditaments.  The largest BID has over 1,000 hereditaments.   Red Potato believes that all BIDs should have a mission to improve the local area.   BIDs can also have a strategic role in bringing a sense of renewal to the BID area.    Next time you are in your town or business district, look around.   Is there a sense of civic pride?  Does it look like someone cares about the place?

Would you recognise if your town had a BID?  Well, maybe.   But perhaps the question should be how are local organisations working together in your town, business park or high street to make things better.