February's Insight from Chris Turner


This has been a phenomenally busy month for BIDs across the country, with work on ballots, levy collection, government support, future planning for town centres, and permitted development rights.

Some 38 BIDs are planning for their ballots before the end of March. We know that a few BIDs have already made the decision not to go to ballot: possibly reviewing options after a break. There have been successful outcomes in Wimborne, Langthwaite Business Association, Watford, Hainault, and Lancaster. Sadly, we have seen Basingstoke and Neath unsuccessful in their ballots. Interestingly, some of the results in these ballots have been better than the results five years earlier, suggesting continuing strong support for the BID model.

One of the biggest current issues is around levy collection and enforcement, with much discussion between BIDs and their local authorities. After a long period when some levy payers were either unwilling or unable to pay their levy bills it has become clear that most are now coming forward with payments; there are some BIDs who are achieving collection rates of over 80%. It is very clear that in every BID many levy payers have been passionately supportive and very committed and have been paying from the very beginning. BIDs have continued to support their levy payers with their services of Rangers, safety and security, and advice on grant giving. This is now coming to fruition and bills are being paid.

During the month government support was evident. Luke Hall, our new Minister for the High Street at Ministry of Housing Community and Local Government, in a written response to Parliament said that Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been a key tool in providing business led improvements to local areas since 2004. They remain an important part of our high street and town centre agenda, and the government is committed to supporting them. BIDs also have an important role to play in ensuring our high streets and town centre areas can open in a safe way in order to reinvigorate our local economies and get people back to work and the shops. The full link is here. And Paul Scully, Minister at BEIS, talking about government support for BIDs said "We have heard many positive examples of BIDs who have undertaken successful renewal ballots. We also know that many are also seeing the BID levy continuing to be paid by members". As part of work with government relationship we have worked with a number of different BIDs on a letter for Chancellor Sunak, focussing on the need to continue the business rates holiday and other support measures for the retail sector and those BIDs in town and city centre retail centres. 

A vital strand of BIDs’ work is forward planning for the emerging world post lockdown. The vaccine roll-out is now allowing BIDs across the country to plan more for our town and city centre futures. There is a growing legion of examples and we mention a few here: Cardiff BID has produced a manifesto that lays out eight priority areas to ensure that city centres recover sustainably from the pandemic, and overcome the challenges facing city centres that were present before the pandemic began; Colmore BID has launched a Call for Evidence as part of The Future Business District, a unique study to inform their response to long term recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and offer policy directions on best practice for central business districts across the UK; and the Savills report Re:imagining Retail reimagines how we use our towns and shopping centres to live, work, play and thrive. Sustainable repurposing is about making sure that these places are future proof, green, offer solid investment opportunities and provide what communities need. At the same time, The Centre for Cities, who we often recommend for terrific data and research work, foresee a sharp bounce back, and expect the UK economy, and many of its cities, to bounce back quickly. They believe that previous recessions have been led by exporting industries: for example manufacturing in the 1980s and finance and manufacturing in 2008-2010. That’s not the case this time round. The huge falls in output have been led by customer facing local services, particularly in hospitality and entertainment. This changes how quickly the economy should be able to bounce back. For local services, the strong bounce back of exporters means that there is likely to be a demand to spend (indeed, the bounce back of retail to pre-lockdown levels by July backs this up). They believe that when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, local services should see a bounce back too, both in terms out output and employment. Of course, the question is whether the businesses serving this demand will be the ones that currently exist or ones that set up in the aftermath. Find out more here.

Permitted development rights continue to be a major concern for BIDs. We all have a strong view that successful town centres operate with a mix of retail, leisure, office and financial services. They are the social and economic hearts of our local communities, and therefore we need to understand and manage how we balance the varying requirements of our local and business communities, ensuring we maintain the quality and the value of our local centres. Our Industrial BIDs feel strongly that this will have a devastating and lasting impact on business districts and undermine their established use as a location for business and jobs. As part of the consultation many BIDs have made their own responses: Watford BID gave a very cogent response here; Manor Royal responded as part of the growing Industrial BIDs network, and Bb co-signed a shared letter from a range of national bodies that appeared in the Times and also went to the Minister. We look forward to the responses.

On a more practical note, our next cohort of the Diploma in BID Leadership starts on 13th April 2021; its underlying philosophy is that Leadership is different from management. Leadership is about doing the right things right. It’s about setting directions, building visions, and making something new. It's about taking a group of people on a journey and mapping out what an organisation needs to do to succeed. At its best it is creative, inspiring, motivating and exciting. Do contact evan.gartland@britishbids.info if you are interested.

Insight Online continues to pick up the themes identified here, and the next one is on February 23rd, 14:30 - 15:30. This month we will be joined by Stephen Toal (Savills Director of Property Management Research) to update us on retail trends, and Emily Cotterill (FOR Cardiff) on recommendations for supporting a sustainable post-Covid recovery for city centres. Register your place here (please check junk email for registration confirmation).


Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs

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