Just under two years ago, I attended a Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce meeting when presentations were made by the Chief Executives of two local business improvement districts (BIDs) – in Leeds and Skipton – explaining what benefits a BID had brought to their centres. The Chamber was keen to promote the idea that Harrogate should set up its own BID.
I listened and concluded “What’s not to like?” In fact, “Why on earth does Harrogate not already have its own BID?”, so the following day I contacted Mike Procter, then President of the Chamber and offered to get involved. My thinking was this – I and my family have lived in Harrogate for 25 years. For most of that time I have worked afar but, since becoming a consultant at Berwins, I now work in Harrogate. It’s about time I got involved with putting something back into the town.
Wind forward 23 months and we have just emerged from a successful ballot to set up Harrogate’s first ever BID. It’s been hard work and many of us in the task group have spent hundreds of hours getting the idea off the ground - setting up a BID company, raising finance from some very generous contributors, employing a consultant to help us with the process and undertaking the significant task of persuading as many of the qualifying business occupiers in the town centre (we chose a cut-off of those businesses with a rateable value above £20,000) as we can of the benefits of a BID.
The definition of a BID
So, what’s it all about? A BID is a defined geographical area (which can be of any size, large or small) within which businesses pay a small levy (typically 1.5%) on top of their business rates to fund projects within the BID area. The levy is collected by the local authority along with the usual business rates, but (and here is the key point) instead of the authority passing the levy to central government as it does generally with business rates, it is paid direct to the BID organisation to pay for the projects set out in the BID organisation’s business plan. Such projects are over and above the normal services which the local authority has a statutory obligation to apply, i.e. a BID does not replace the local authority’s function, it brings additional benefits.
For a BID to come into existence, a ballot must take place which must be won on two counts by those voting, namely a straight majority and a majority by rateable value. This ensures that the interests of small and large businesses are protected. The BID lasts for a maximum of 5 years, before the ballot process must be repeated if the BID is to continue.
Businesses which are exempt from the levy, and those outside the BID area, can voluntarily take part in a BID by paying the levy. This will entitle them to full rights as members in the governance and management of the BID organisation.
The benefits for Harrogate
Over 300 BIDs exist in England & Wales and many are into their second term of five years. Harrogate BID, as is typical of many others, will be run as a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee. The board will comprise up to 15 directors, who are representative of the different business sectors within the BID area and who will work voluntarily to run the BID. The number of paid positions will be kept to a minimum to ensure that as much of the anticipated income (we are forecasting £500-600,000 per annum) is spent on the projects themselves.
We are very excited about what a BID can achieve in Harrogate. It can’t directly fill the vacant shop and business units within the town centre, but it can invest in the key project areas laid out in our business plan to help improve the town centre, make it more attractive to visitors (and thereby increase footfall) and to businesses wishing to move into the town and to help reduce the costs of those businesses already here.
More information about the BID can be found at harrogatebid.co.uk.
Richard Wheeldon is a Senior Consultant in Berwins' Commercial Property team.