OCTOBER INSIGHTS BY CHRIS TURNER


The Golden quarter is upon us and for most retailers it is the most lucrative period in the year. Managers and leaders are therefore desperate to understand how they can gain any competitive edge, not just for Christmas but going into 2024. BIDs clearly have a part to play in this, and for many of us it is also one of the busiest times of the year. Thus, there is much happening and much to comment on.

As part of that competitive edge, in their Long-Term Plan for Towns, the government has unveiled 55 towns that will benefit from a £1.1 billion levelling up investment, as part of a plan for towns that have been ‘overlooked and taken for granted’.  Towns will be given the opportunity to develop a long-term plan supported by a Towns Board. In a very new model, they will each receive a 10-year £20 million endowment-style fund to be spent on local people’s priorities, like regenerating local high streets and town centres or securing public safety.   They will need to set up a Town Board to bring together community leaders, employers, local authorities, and the local MP, to deliver the Long-Term Plan for their town and put it to local people for consultation.   They will use a suite of regeneration powers to unlock more private sector investment by auctioning empty high street shops, reforming licensing rules on shops and restaurants, and supporting more housing in town centres.  The fuller details are here. As one BID manager has said “what the government have done here is to create 55 ten-year fully funded BIDs… in our case with ten times the budget raised from levy payments”. And many BID Chief Executives and Managers feel, along with John Bownas of Love Hastings BID, that “it's great to see that the focus of this ten-year funding package is on issues that really matter; transport to boost the local visitor end evening economy, measures to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, and improving the look and feel of the town centre. It's also refreshing that they want to put decision making in the hands of local businesses and residents, with transparent consultation on ideas, and a board that is made up predominantly of local people who understand what will make a real difference.

Podcasts are becoming a key dissemination tool, and we have two this month. In The Rest is Politics, Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, meet with Rory and Alastair to discuss their two cities, their contrasting politics, and working towards their shared goal of further devolved powers for city regions. They focus on What is it like to run a metropolitan area? How does devolution impact the citizens of regional areas? Does party affiliation affect the decisions a mayor makes? The podcast is here. And in a further very interesting podcast Search Engine, here from the USA, PJ Vogt looks at why we can’t turn offices into apartment. His quest for answers sends us over a hundred years into the past, and the invisible rules and fights that determine what our neighbourhoods look like.

Business crime is an issue for many BIDs and their BCRPs. We have a session on it at our annual British BIDs conference, on November 2, discussing how BIDs are providing a range of interventions to enhance the safety and feeling of safety in their places. This session will see some practical examples from BIDs in the fight against crime as well as case studies of successful safety campaigns. We are currently working with Tesco and have produced a video with them for the 380 Tesco Stores across the country which are within a BID and will speak more about this at the conference.

England’s coast holds an important place in Britain’s history. Towns and cities along the shoreline once welcomed holidaymakers from across the country and hosted industries that exported around the world. Today, the coast is in crisis. Cheap international travel has taken tourists from British seaside resorts and deindustrialisation has driven away major employers and good jobs. Six of the ten poorest communities in the UK are now found on the coast and a key new report is out here. One suggestion is that Ministers should pilot a Coastal Economy Transformation Programme, giving local leaders powers and resources to grow the private sector, boost connectivity and increase investment. Again, BIDs can be key drivers of this. There are a large number of BIDs in the coastal towns and British BIDs has a Coastal BIDs group specifically working with them, chaired by Brighton and Sunderland BIDs.

The High Streets Task Force continued to deliver support to communities and local authorities across England in 2022-23 and their annual report is a vital source of knowledge and information. They make clear that whilst a range of local funding is available to places, from the Levelling Up Fund to Town Deals and Shared Prosperity Fund allocations, making best use of these opportunities and delivering long-term change on high streets continues to be a complex challenge requiring a range of expertise and partnership working to unlock progress. Places that have embedded Task Force advice and strategies - using its role as a ‘critical friend’ - have been successful in winning new funding and are delivering both high street activation and longer-term planning and visioning work that is starting to produce transformative impact.

Party conference season is over for another year. The British BIDs Chair Nic Durston attended all three of the major political party conferences, and engaged with business leaders, MPs, local councillors, and BID representatives on a wide range of issues relating to BIDs and the work that BIDs do.  He felt that the diversity of the discussions and debates reflected the breadth of our activities and focus, including the future of the high street, and the regeneration of town centres, the economic value of culture and the arts to the UK economy, and the challenges facing those SMEs operating in the hospitality industry. It is vital in the current context that BIDs have a powerful voice inside these political discussions, and British BIDs is focussing on it strongly as we run up to an election and a possible new government. The Centre for Cities, well known to many BIDs for their data provision, had a programme of 21 fringe events discussing topics including the living wage, economic inactivity, housing, transport, innovation and devolution. Urban transport between and within our big cities became the hot issue at Conservative conference after the HS2 announcement debacle. Whilst this issue was still simmering at Labour conference, early announcements by the Labour leadership shifted the focus to housebuilding and planning reform and created an interesting political dividing line between Labour and Conservatives. For more reflections on conference season, listen to the latest episode of City Minutes here, for a discussion on where each party is headed next on unlocking the potential of cities and devolving powers to city- regions.

One aspect of this current context is the current Government’s ongoing consideration of undertaking a review of BIDs, something that British BIDs - alongside The BID Foundation, Institute of Place Management, and the Association of Town and City Management - have been discussing with representatives from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. All four organisations have worked on a joint submission to the Government, and we are pleased to be able to share this with our members and stakeholders; the feedback from all for organisations suggests that it has been hugely productive working together in representing the BID sector to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We have now held positive discussions with senior civil servants, and this dialogue continues. This led to an interesting piece from Mathew Davies Embracing reality: a less polarised debate on Business Improvement Districts and a view from others that the contribution of the industry to galvanise the private sector, delivering investment into high streets and coordinating action is nothing short of extraordinary.

We have already mentioned one of the great Repurposing projects and cannot resist a follow up! Ikea opened its gigantic flagship store in Tottenham in 2005, at one minute past midnight on a February Thursday. Eighteen years later the vast furniture warehouse has been reborn as Drumsheds, one of the world’s largest nightclubs: a 15,000-capacity venue set to host the biggest names in dance music. And apparently for its opening on Saturday, the clubbers are a decidedly less rowdy bunch than the frantic sofa-seekers. A great story of innovation.

Ballots continue, and we congratulate Giffnock Village, Bradford, Broadmead Bristol, and Alloa First on their successes. There are currently 9 BIDs in ballot and the details as ever can be seen in our weekly Ballot Watch.

Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs

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