October's Insight from Chris Turner


October is proving to be a very busy month for BIDs across the British Isles in both the ballot and policy arenas. Ballots are returning in number, sometimes with great success and sadly in some cases failure. Thus, our congratulations to Destination Cathedral Quarter BID, Strabane BID, Hull BID, Station to Station, Christchurch BID, Brompton Road BID and, interestingly, Gibraltar Main Street BID on their successful ballot results this month. Both Knaresborough BID and Acocks Green BID failed and we are awaiting key outcomes from Croydon Town Centre BID, Love Wimbledon, Peterborough BID, Stockport BID at the end of this week. 


On the national policy front, we are looking forward to the Chancellor's autumn statement and budget on the 27th of October and one key issue for all of us is of course business rates. British BIDs [Bb] has already responded to the Chancellor with a formal letter on business rates, reinforcing our belief that he needs to keep the 66% retail business rates discount in place until the tax is reformed, keep VAT at the current 12.5% rate for an extra year, waive Bounce Back Loans for the smallest independent businesses, make it simpler and quicker to access government funding and invest in vocational subjects. At the same time, data published  by the British Retail Consortium suggested four out of five larger retailers would probably have to close more shops unless their business rates bill was reduced. Let us all hope there is some closure on this – it has dragged on and on. 

One campaign that Bb habeen working with is Save Our ShopsAs we all know business rates are one of the largest costs paid by shopkeepers and they have risen by 50 per cent since their introduction and have caused the closure of many of our favourite shops, job losses and the loss of community ties. The campaign allows people to mail their local MP, based on postcodes and is accessible here.

Interestingly, new data suggests that it is independent retailers and food outlets who are stepping into the gaps left by chain stores on the UK’s high streets, retail parks and in shopping centres, driving the first rise in their numbers in four years. A net total of 804 locally run convenience stores, barbers, bakers, cafes and fast-food joints opened in the first half of 2021, according to the latest review of the market by analysts at the Local Data Company (LDC) - read the full article here. The number contrasts with a net 5,251 chain stores, hospitality and leisure businesses that closed down during the period, as more small business owners ventured into the nation’s shopping districts. LDC said independents had benefited from government support measures, such as business rates relief, which had enabled them to remain open and capitalise on cheaper rent deals from landlords as their bigger rivals stumbled. About half the Topshop stores re-let since the fashion chain exited the high street  earlier this year have gone to independent operators. While more stores are likely to become vacant, according to the LDC’s latest report, the pace of closures appeared to have peaked. A total of 10,549 more stores are expected to become vacant by the end of this year compared with 11,319 last year. For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, there may be some cause for optimism when it comes to the performance of our high streets. The latest LDC figures show a slowdown in the speed of decline, with store losses far more significant in the first half of 2020 when compared to 2021. 

One key development is the appointment of Andy Haldane, the former Bank of England Chief Economist as the head of the government’s levelling up taskforce. He said that addressing regional disparities had been a “personal passion” throughout his career and he was looking forward to working with the private and voluntary sectors “to design and deliver an economy that works for every part of the UK”.  The appointment came alongside confirmation that what was the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be renamed. It will become the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Michael Gove was appointed to run it .

A strategic strand running through the various policy debates in this new DLUHC, is the rethink on Permitted Development Rights. Under new Communities’ minister Michael Gove, planning reforms announced last year have been subject to a rethink with some more controversial elements dropped amid fears they were proving unpopular with many MPs. The concept of planning zones may be been watered down, leaving powers to approve individual applications in the hands of councils. More information can be seen here. 

One issue we are picking up in our various discussions with BIDs and national levy payers is the way that staff shortages in the haulage, farming and hospitality sectors are now affecting almost all parts of the economy; this is reinforced by a new survey released by accountancy and advisory firm BDO which has warned that the lack of staff was putting pressure on businesses ability to operate at normal levels, with reduced stock hurting their business. Nearly a fifth said they were increasing wages to attract new staff, while others were introducing extra perks to lure workers. But the report said the knock-on effects for consumers could be “significant”, with nearly one-third of businesses saying the prices would need to rise in the next three to six months to make up for the disruption. 

In Birmingham, The Future Business District Study was commissioned by Colmore BID with support from Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), MEPC and Balfour Beatty along with City Centre BID partners JQ, Southside, Retail and Westside. It set out to address two questions: the likely long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on city centre business districts; and ensuring they remain successful as places to attract businesses and people and contribute to vibrant city centres. The Research was undertaken by the University of Birmingham, working with the Office of Data Analytics at WMCA and supported by UKRI.  Among 30 propositions, it calls for the appointment of a ‘Curator General’ to act as creative director for the city centre, to shape open spaces and attract new investors and professionals. The full report, its summary and Colmore BID’s response The Space Between, outlining their own propositions, can be downloaded from the Colmore BID website here.

Many of these key debates will be picked up at National BIDs Conference on the 4th of November, where the focus of conversation will be centred around economic recovery, sustainability and repurposing our places. We have a fine line-up of speakers, including Paul Mason and Vicky Pryce and further details are here.

Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs


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