March's Insight from Chris Turner


We finish quarter one with continuing uncertainty; whilst Covid-19 seems to be increasingly controlled, there is clear evidence of rising inflation, the awful Ukraine situation is impacting on life here, and both footfall and spending are extremely varied across both sectors and regions.

Some areas and their BIDs continue to function reasonably well; others are having a very hard time. The analysis is interesting. Cities are adaptable, says Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California speaking to the Centre for Economic Performance last week; as long as they have highly educated people, they can endure the collapse of even large industries. London seems to prove his point. The number of pay-rolled jobs in London fell more than any other region in the first year of the pandemic, then grew more than anywhere else. In January it apparently passed the pre-Covid peak. London specialises in industries such as the arts and hospitality that were wrecked by the pandemic, but it also specialises in legal services, health care and public administration, which have grown. More information here

At the same time, high street sales are now higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic in the majority of Britain’s local council areas. The recovery has come despite renewed government Covid restrictions over the winter and the collapse of spending in shops in the heart of London. In about three-quarters of Great Britain’s 368 local authorities, in-person sales to British customers in January were higher than two years previously. In the average local authority, spending in January was 4 per cent higher than in 2020.  These effects have proved less challenging for midsized towns and cities with modest retail and service sectors. The best performing urban areas were Hamilton, Blackpool, Sunderland, Shrewsbury and Barnsley in January, where spending was up by more than 10 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Find more information here. One consistent pattern in the data is that high streets with smaller shops have tended to do better, as they are more likely to be in mixed-use areas surrounded by housing and reliant on hyperlocal trade.

We continue to see excellent BID ballot outcomes, with successes in seven BIDs: Newbury, Merthyr, London Riverside, Staines, the Heart of London - Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus (Occupier's BID), and the Heart of London - Piccadilly and St James' (Occupier's BID), and Wandsworth Town. We are still awaiting results in Enniskillen and Possilpark BID. Sadly, the Heart of Haverhill was unsuccessful.

The Levelling Up agenda is going to be a major driver of change in places across the country if it is funded properly and British BIDs continues to engage in the debates. Colleagues in Power to Change see this as a flagship white paper that is taking very seriously the importance of community empowerment and the role played by community and social infrastructure – the places and spaces in neighbourhoods, where people can meet and build relationships in their communities. Alongside the usual emphasis on research & development spending, jobs and investment there is a welcome focus on community, quality of life and quality of place, social capital and wellbeing.

BIDs are already part of this up and down the British Isles. The first two-thirds of this terrific white paper is among the best government analysis of Britain’s economic and social failings. Many commentators make clear that it is hard not to be impressed by the scrupulous marshalling of devastating data, ranging from the slow travel to work times to the disastrously higher prevalence of obesity in left-behind Britain – social science at its best. In the foundational framework it outlines that if followed through, it could deliver a generational £2.5tn increase in national output over and above whatever growth Britain might have otherwise expected. It is a fabulous national prize, and we must all be part of the challenge.

Over the past twelve months there have been major concerns in many BIDs about new relaxed planning rules. It would now seem that Housing secretary Michael Gove is set to scrap the “most radical proposals” from the 2020 planning white paper. The Secretary of State has now suggested that he has decided not to proceed with a major separate piece of planning legislation to put the reforms into law. The government’s U-turn would see the idea of “growth areas”, in which planning approval that is granted automatically, is scrapped. In the white paper, growth areas were described as “areas suitable for substantial development”, and where outline approval for development would be automatically secured for forms and types of development specified in the local plan. The indication is that the Planning Bill will now be subsumed into Levelling Up legislation.

One strand of the planning changes were proposals to reform the Leasehold and Commonhold systems in England and Wales. We responded, along with ATCM, The BID Foundation and led by colleagues from New West End Company BID, making clear that we opposed plans to raise the non-residential limit from 25% to 50% for collective freehold acquisitions and right to manage claims. We believed that the measure would undermine town centre revival ambitions because it would lead to less new housing and because of successful town centre transformation, requires the support of property owners.

We are delighted to announce that Trish Willetts is joining the British BIDs team. Trish has a wealth of experience in the BID industry and will join us in May when she moves on from her role as Coventry BID Director. She will join our other recently appointed colleague, Lucy Stanford from Nottingham BID.

One of the key roles that British BIDs plays is that of innovative change brought about by high quality training and development. Our Certificate in BID Management starts again on June 15th and the Diploma in BID Leadership starts on May 10th, along with the 24 days of training courses that we run throughout the year. These allow us to prepare BIDs, their managers, Chief Executives and Boards for a very different and changing future. Our task is to provide high quality innovation and support to the 330 BIDs across the British Isles.

Our next event is the April 27th Professional Development Day in Coventry.  The city was awarded the UK City of Culture in 2017 and the BID team there have been involved in the delivery of some of the major projects and events staged under the City of Culture banner. At the Professional Development Day, you will hear from a range of key stakeholders on how they have created legacy projects that are at the heart of the community. We will be looking at how BIDs and cultural organisations work together to drive economic growth and help their communities, looking at the case for greater collaboration and working together more effectively. There will be time for networking and discussion on other topics throughout the day.

As ever, please get in touch by phone or email if you need further information.

Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs


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