July's insight from Chris Turner


July has been another very dramatic month for BIDs across the British Isles, with the reopening of bars and restaurants on the 4th of July in England, a similar opening across the other administrations during the month and then the reopening of gyms and beauty salons. BIDs have been very involved in the issues of queueing, signposting, payment apps for bars and restaurants, and a whole range of support activities for their levy payers. Most BIDs have been working with their local authorities, making use of the £50 million from the Reopening High Street Safely Fund, although many of us are finding that the regulatory framework within that funding line is occasionally odd.

Sector-by-sector guidance for 4th July reopening was issued, necessitating separate facilities for household groups in hotels and hostels, the use of screens and regular cleaning. Hair salons have been urged to keep the volume of music low to avoid customers and staff needing to shout, which creates an increased Covid-19 risk. Chancellor Sunak’s statement on ‘eat out to help out’ gave a boost to the restaurant trade and a further role for BIDs in helping levy payers register, along with a much needed VAT reduction. And then, finally, face masks suddenly became the norm, becoming mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24th July. The Health and Social Care Secretary said a store can refuse someone entry if they aren’t wearing one and can call the police if there’s a problem. People who don’t wear one will face fines of up to £100. Children under 11 and those with disabilities will be exempt from the new rule. 

One BID, Leicester, suffered the awful outcome of the 4th of July opening not going ahead and the Covid-19 data resulting in them going back to the first lockdown stage. This has been a terrible journey for colleagues in Leicester and clearly we must all learn from the possibility that there may be local spikes across BIDs for many months to come. The full Leicester story is here and is worth a read. British BIDs is running a webinar on local lockdowns with input from Leicester BID and you are very welcome to join us, you can sign up here. For those who want more precise access to the data on both Pillar 1 and 2 Covid tests then the most useful website is here. This allows breakdown at both the upper tier local authority and the lower tier local authority levels which many BID managers might find of value.

One of the many issues emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown has been the reduction of office staff in our towns and cities and the very clear message that these numbers will remain low into the future and that many businesses are rethinking the whole use of office space and administrative staff headquarters across the country. Interesting work on this is available here and our own British BIDs research on the ‘new normal’ suggests that might be a slow and steady decline in the numbers of people who still work from their office. Many people have found working from home a pleasure during this Covid period and will not want to return too quickly. This will clearly affect the long-term business plans of many BIDs, as much growth in the last few years has been in the area of professional services in many of our towns and city centres.

Despite the horrors of this Covid-19 crisis, the long-term work continues. As part of the planning for the future the government issued their guidance for the next stage of the Towns Fund. The various high street and towns funds account for £3.6 billion of spending in total and they have become even more important following the Covid-19 lockdown. We all need to plan for a new and very different future and this large amount of government funding will be vital for the future of what we estimate to be 283 high streets, with links to 107 BIDs. The Towns Fund is worth £2.6 billion and the Future High Streets Fund £1 billion. Some towns selected for a Town Deal have also been shortlisted for the Future High Streets Fund or a Heritage Action Zone, and as they develop proposals, they need to ensure that they have a clear overall vision and strategy. It is clear that tracking these 283 projects can only be done through continuous online literature searching, and Bb will be attempting to take an overview of those 107 projects with BID involvement and report back to the industry on a regular basis. 

One big major piece of legal activity that has been bubbling away has come to fruition. Retailers have obtained a Supreme Court outcome in long-running litigation over payment card processing fees. A panel of five justices held that multilateral interchange fees – which are charged to retailers each time a credit or debit card payment is processed – breach UK and EU competition law. The court rejected an appeal brought by Visa and Mastercard against Sainsbury’s and other retailers. The judges also allowed Asda, Argos and Morrisons to proceed with a trial to assess how much they are entitled to in damages – unless they reach an agreement with the card operators. Lawyers for some of the retailers said some of the financial claims over processing fees go back as far as 1992.

Finally, the BID ballot arena remains slow, with most BIDs moving their ballots into early next year, and most developing BIDs on hold. Two exceptions are Nottingham and Newquay, who are going to ballot in the autumn; it will be interesting to see the outcomes.

Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs


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