August's insight from Chris Turner


This has been a frantic month for BIDs, with holidays reorganised, and large numbers of people coming into some of our towns and cities, whilst others are still almost empty. There has been a huge amount of work in BIDs on sign posting, managing outside tables, street closures, safety and security and working with local authorities and LEPs on funding schemes.

All this is happening whilst some BIDs are also fighting for their own survival, with levy bills still not going out in some places and local authorities not always as supportive as they could be. British BIDs worked with both ATCM and The BID Foundation to get a letter out to those nationals who have been querying their levy, asking for discounts. This letter makes clear that levy bills need to be paid and it is not possible to offer selective discounts, or indeed any discounts in most places. The letter is available here. We have also drafted an individual letter that BIDs can send to any of their levy payers, making clear that levy bills will have to be paid at some stage, however supportive BIDs and their local authorities can be on phased payments and the like. This letter is available here.

It is clear that as the year progresses most BIDs will have to use their usual channels – the local authority court and debt collection process – to call in the unpaid levies. Many, if not most, are holding back a little because of the uncertain times and are offering payment plans, but all will do it in the end – indeed we believe that the regulations and most operating agreements mean that they will have to be called in by the usual summons and bailiff route in the end. The anecdotal evidence is that there are a few real discounts, and a small number of local authorities have said they will not send out court letters or use bailiffs. Of course, many of our levy payers are paying, anecdotally at least 40%,  and are keen to pay; they know that we have provided information and advice on grant funding from government, we have kept our rangers or street wardens operational, kept the properties of our levy payers safe and secure, at a time when many had furloughed all of their staff. We have advised our members on the various stages of the reopening as the rules became clearer, and we have been very heavily involved in the signposting of their towns and cities as people returned to shopping and food areas.

There has been a key change in English planning rules with a significant reform of the Use Classes Order announced on 21 July 2020, creating new use classes: Class E (Commercial, Business and Service), Class F.1 (Learning and Non-residential institutions) and Class F.2 (Local community). They will continue to benefit from any permitted development rights until 31 July 2021 when new, revised permitted development rights will be introduced. New rules will use three simple classifications. From now on, all land in England will be designated for either “growth”, with automatic planning permission, “renewal”, with permission subject to some basic checks, or “protection”, preserving the status of the green belt. This will affect many of our towns and cities and impact on economic development. We will clearly keep BIDs informed as the new rules emerge.

As part of the government and parliament policy thinking and analysis there are three major pieces of work that British BIDs is responding to. As we announced last month, our response to the Treasury Review of Business Rates is being submitted on September 18, with the background here. BIDs have already made responses and we will weave those into our response, which will go to our Advisory Board on September 11th.

At the same time there are two Select committee reviews; one on Supporting our high streets after Covid-19, that is here and one on the Industrial Strategy after Covid-19 that is here. British BIDs is responding to both and again some BIDs have already come back with comments, and we are clearly using our work with NEF Consulting here to develop our responses. Our draft responses will go to the Advisory Board in September before final submission.

A further major piece of strategic work that we are starting is a detailed review to enquire and test what Business Improvement Districts and some of their key stakeholders are looking for from a membership-representative body like British BIDs. We have asked Rocket Science to undertake this work over the next three months. It will be an opportunity to identify what services and products British BIDs can best develop and offer to help meet current and future members’ needs. The modes of service delivery, such as training and practice sharing, are likely to change, and the BID marketplace is increasingly diversifying. This intelligence gathering and its interpretation will be particularly significant given the extent of the recent and unprecedented shocks to the socio-economic system caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The findings will be used to inform the Bb Advisory Board’s positioning of the organisation and its potential growth and development at what is a pivotal moment for the country’s economy. Talking individually to a mixed group of BIDs, as well as some partners, will provide an opportunity to test their understanding and interpretation of what a “new normal” might look like as the country begins the recovery from the pandemic, and how support organisations like Bb can best contribute and support them in this endeavour. 

This will be mirrored by our usual Annual BID survey, which this year will focus on BID resilience, levy collection, and ballot planning. Because of Covid-19 we are planning to run the survey as a short project with the data being ready for our Annual Virtual Conference on November 5th with further details here.

Ballot planning continues, with some 60 BIDs coming to ballot before the end of March next year. This is of course a slight increase on the usual number, partly because of the Coronavirus Act 2020 which allowed some BIDs to run until the end of March 2021, but also of course the growth in the number of BIDs to the current 329. This slight peaking of ballot will most certainly put pressure on the national retailers and their voting processes, but also on those of us coming to ballot at a tricky time. We are running a whole range of courses on ballots, business plans and criteria; they are all available on our website; and we are always happy, please email me at chris.turner@britishbids.info.


Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs


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