May's Insight from Chris Turner - 2021


May 17th brought change again to our high streets, with the opening of pubs and bars indoors, and public buildings becoming more accessible to groups of people. This changed much of the work of BIDs, and it has brought life and some vivacity back to our high streets. There are large numbers of our levy payers in offices who are still working from home, and this is clearly having an effect on much of the service delivery in the food and beverage sector that traditionally supported the office workforce.

This office space agenda is rapidly changing. IWG [formerly Regus] has said occupancy levels in its buildings are improving and it is receiving more inquiries from potential tenants. Interestingly, the world’s biggest workspace provider said it was experiencing strong demand from businesses planning future hybrid working, where employees split the week between their home and an office desk not necessarily inside their corporate headquarters. At the same time, the government’s own Flexible Working Taskforce is drawing up guidance – before the expected lifting of the remaining lockdown restrictions, including the requirement to work from home, on 21st June – to support the emergence of new, hybrid ways of working. For example, staff might come into offices only occasionally and work at home or at a neighbourhood cafe for the rest of the week. The pandemic has demonstrated that people could work productively away from traditional workplaces, with 71% of firms reporting that home working had either boosted or made no difference to productivity. The taskforce chair said that this was an opportunity to shift ways of working, which have barely changed for generations; it will allow more people with other life commitments to participate in work and it will improve wellbeing. Our own British BIDs webinar on flexible working today was attended by over 70 people from BIDs across the country and we plan to make the content available as a podcast as soon as possible.

As part of this reworking, the City of London is planning to create at least 1,500 new homes by repurposing offices and other buildings left empty because of the pandemic, as it adapts the capital’s financial district for the future following Covid-19. Cultural and creative businesses and organisations, previously priced out of the area by high rents, will be encouraged to the ancient heart of London through low-cost, long-term lets in vacant and little-used spaces. The City of London Corporation, the governing body for the Square Mile, intends to develop the new housing by 2030. Clearly much is changing, and it is changing fast, and as BID managers we will need to keep apace with this.

Businesses continue to be innovative and entrepreneurial and BIDs still continue to operate at full pelt, because their business levy payers have had to adapt quickly or risk going under. Raisin, a technology-led financial services company has mapped out which local economy is best suited to cope with Covid-related challenges, based on the number of large businesses, business survival rate, birth and death rates, rate of people in employment, amount of the population receiving income support and the average government spend per head. The analysis is here, and it does support much of what BIDs are saying. Thus, small market towns and suburbs have proved themselves to be surprisingly successful. Tewkesbury, a beautiful town in the heart of Gloucestershire, comes out on top based on a mix of birth rates, employability and business prosperity. Cornwall is also a region that’s thriving, with a 29% uplift of growth in its population and businesses booming by 4.5% over the past five years. Of the economies expected to bounce back from the pandemic the most, there’s a clear divide between North and South. The strongest economy in the North West was Ribble Valley, which has enjoyed a 12.5% growth of large businesses and has a 45.8% survival rate of new businesses – but it still sits outside the top twenty strongest local economies in the UK.

British BIDs has had two online sessions on these issues, one this week on flexible working and another one next week when our usual Insight Online, which focuses on the opening of the food industry, with contributions from Salar Brock, regional director at the Rick Stein Restaurants group and from Alice Murphy, Head of Partnerships at the New West End Company. Further information about Insight Online and how you can join is available here https://britishbids.info/onlin....

Ballots continue but at a much slower rate. The frantic rush in the run up to the end of March this year, which was brought about by last year’s Covid Act, have now come to an end and we move into a slightly more normal position with a few ballots happening each month from now until the autumn. We congratulate Brighton BID and a new BID in Bristol - the Redcliffe and Temple BID, focusing on the office and service sector around Temple Meads station, for their ballot successes. We have now had 52 ballots since last years lockdown, with 48 successes. We will continue to monitor ballots and report the results in our weekly Ballot Watch email.

The Queen’s Speech was the standout political event of the month and the government outlined more than 20 different pieces of legislation. There were two key items in the speech that will affect BIDs. There was a promise to “level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services”. This will hopefully affect some BIDs dramatically as it comes to pass. The speech also included a promise to bring forward laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built. This will create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system. The moves were described as an “utter disaster” by some, who warned the bill would take us back to a deregulated dark age of development and will affect both high street and industrial park BIDs. It fears most of the new homes are unlikely to be low-cost or affordable. The All Party Parliamentary Group is meeting today - May 20th – to discuss this, and many BIDs have already responded to the House of Commons Select committee on these planning changes that may change the face of many high streets, as commercial space increasingly become residential.

These changes to the high street are wide ranging and very interesting for all of us running BIDs. As an example of such new thinking, institutional investor Legal and General has launched a new blueprint for the future of the high street, which includes rent-free shops, as part of its strategy to “re-invent and re-position” retail. The project kick-started with what it is calling a “curated shopping street,” called ‘Kingland’ in Poole, Dorset, that is championing independent retailers. 10 new businesses, run by “innovative young entrepreneurs” have opened on the boutique street, and each has been given a shop with no rent or business rates for the first two years. The idea is to allow the businesses, which include a fishmonger, coffee roaster, design studio, surfboard shop, zero-waste grocery store, art gallery, gin bar and store, home interiors specialist, restored second-hand furniture shop and perfumer, the chance to develop their retail offerings and to “flourish”. More information can be seen here. Poole has of course a great BID, that is completing its ballot this week, and they have been very involved in this exciting and possibly groundbreaking project.

We are recruiting now for this year’s second cohort of our Certificate in BID Management, Diploma in BID Leadership; and the ten one day training courses we run through the year; as ever an email or phone call to Evan.Gartland@britishbids.info or 07517 996851or www.britishbids.info will allow you to plan your time.

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