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January 2017

The Importance of Turnout

From the latter part of 2016, British BIDs started to report turnout in all BID ballots as an important part of the overall result.

There has been much debate as to whether England and the other regions should follow the Scottish and Northern Ireland models where a minimum turnout threshold of 25% applies (for both number and rateable value of votes received) alongside the otherwise dual-key mechanism. Indeed, many have suggested that, as part of its formal Review of BIDs, DCLG should replicate this.

Firstly, I doubt that they will, as it would apply pressure to similarly reform other electoral processes (e.g. Council elections, Parliamentary elections etc.). Secondly, I am personally not convinced that setting a low threshold of, say, 25%, would now achieve much more than legitimising turnouts that most would consider otherwise unacceptable – the average turnout across all ballots in the UK is now 47%. However, taking a much more positive perspective, what the threshold model may have achieved is a highlighting of the importance of turnout as part of a ballot process, and this is a very good thing.

By showing turnout as part of any ballot result, what British BIDs now does is to highlight this across all results. So, why does it matter?

Well, for me, the two main aspects are that it is a very good indicator that the research and consultation conducted as part of the development of the BID Proposals has proactively raised awareness rather than trying to sneak a Proposal through ‘under the radar’; but, of far more importance for me, is that it sets the BID up well for its term with high levels of engagement from the outset and minimises risks of any challenge.

Think of it like this, assuming the rateable value element is won, if a combination of the majority by number and turnout mean that the BID would still have won even if everyone who didn’t vote had voted “no”, that leads to what I would refer to as an ‘absolute majority’ – surely the strongest position that any BID could find itself in?

The new 2017 Industry Criteria and Guidance, published by us on behalf of major stakeholder groups, stresses the importance of BID Proposers doing everything possible to maximise turnout rather than just winning by number and rateable value. It is, though, accepted that this is harder for BIDs with more hereditaments (i.e. it is easier to win a large turnout with only 250 than it is with 1,000), hence why the 2017 update again sets target numbers for the average town or city centre BID.

So, rather than using statute or amendments to existing Regulations to condition our industry, let’s do it via setting our own standards, policing ourselves, and turning up the spotlight on turnout as a part of a ballot result. This year, British BIDs will further refine its aggregated approach to reporting turnout alongside the other dual-key majorities. We want to lead the way on the importance of engagement.

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Written by Paul Clement, Director

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