“Business is an act of citizenship”: using BIDs to promote inclusive economic growth in communities

The key to inclusive place based economic growth?

The principle of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is pretty straightforward, and the legislation in Scotland is flexible enough to ensure that pretty much anyone can create and act on a BID-based idea. There are currently over 30 live BID projects in Scotland, with BIDs Scotland stating in their latest annual report that they believe this number could almost double to 65 by the end of 2017 if upcoming and scheduled BIDs are also taken into account. The report found that, despite continuing tough economic conditions, there appears to be little evidence of a decline in interest in the BID model. If anything, more people are turning to BIDs as a way of improving local high streets using limited local funds, private investment from local businesses, and other local assets.

BIDs themselves can be seen as a cross section – a mix of the entire economic ecosystem of a place. They can encompass economic, business, local, political and social elements and bring them together in a strategic way to build revenue to support the different aspects of the BID area, including aesthetics, security and commerce. They are locally developed, locally managed, locally financed and locally delivered, giving a sense of authenticity which is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. This popularity is evidenced by the successful renewal of all of the BIDs in Scotland who have gone to reballot to date, with many actually increasing their majority in favour of the BID model.

Collaboration and embedding BIDS within their local communities

As BIDs have been developed, and new models, partnerships and ways of co- operating have been established, BID coordinators and councils in particular are thinking about how to ensure the legacy of the BID within their locality and, more importantly, how to ensure that the economic benefits of the BID are felt across the BID area, not just within the businesses.

This area-wide benefit can be created by for example, re-investing money in security, street lighting, Christmas lights, and flower baskets to improve the feel and aesthetics of a place – actions which are commonplace in BID areas. However, there are some who feel that BIDs could and should go even further in increasing their social value within a community, while not losing sight of the interests of levy payers. This balance, which requires recognition of the wider roles and responsibilities of BIDs, is something which will have to be carefully managed by BID managers in order to ensure that BIDs do not try to do too much, but at the same time act in a way which makes them a key part of their local community and economy. It is an interesting and, at times, difficult place for progressive BIDs to be.

In many areas, BIDs have provided an opportunity for increased community development, and it has been suggested that there could be a formal role for BIDs to play in the wider community development partnerships within localities. BIDs are now being developed to sit alongside existing community anchor bodies, helping to create strong local partnerships and independent communities.

Through collaboration and co-ordination, BIDs are working alongside other services and organisations to help develop sustained community empowerment, helping communities to lobby, providing work experience placements to local young people and acting positively in the form of events to promote increased community cohesion and empowerment, as well as continuing with “normal practice”- increasing footfall in their local area to benefit businesses.

Not all about the money

While generating additional income for the local economy is one of the biggest drivers of support for BIDs in communities, in some instances one of the biggest assets they bring to a community (especially once they are firmly established) is their leverage and collective bargaining power. They have the power to campaign and support other groups in the community on issues that are important to them, as well as offering greater bargaining power with local authorities or other businesses.

As well as commitment to the levy payers’ interest and to improving the local area for people living nearby, another of the potential roles of BIDs is not to act as direct income generators, but as catalysts or facilitators, to encourage new investment and wider growth beyond the BID area – to engage strategically with other partners to encourage investment.


Where next for BIDs

As we have already seen, the flexibility of the BID model in Scotland (there are some legislative differences in England) is such that groups may only be limited by their own ambition. Currently Scotland has what is thought to be the world first food and drinks BID and the first tourism BID this side of the Atlantic. Another innovation is the Borders Railway BID, which seeks to maximise the collective benefit to businesses that are located along the railway route.

It has been suggested that the BID model could be used in a more flexible way to generate income for other public service projects, including the suggestion of a BID for health and a BID for schools. Although the intricacies of how these would work in practice are still being considered, there is much that can be taken from how the existing models use community empowerment, and engagement between the public, third and private sectors to create sustainable and inclusive local economic growth in an area.

As well as their commercial enterprising side, BIDs are also realising their potential as agents of community development and improvement beyond that of economic input. The future currently looks bright for BIDs, which will hopefully mean that it also looks brighter for our local communities.

Business Improvement Districts Scotland is the national organisation for BIDs in Scotland, providing support, advice and encouragement to business groups, communities and local authorities considering and developing a business improvement district.

BIDs Scotland held its Annual Gathering on 28th March 2017 at Perth Concert Hall  with the theme of People – Place – Business: Business Improvement Districts – the key to economic growth.

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Controlling the urban landscape: the pros and cons of putting public spaces in private hands


A 2007 report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) described the growing private ownership and management of the public realm as a “quiet revolution in land ownership”.

The study included a handful of early examples, such as the Excel Centre and Canary Wharf in London, and Liverpool’s Paradise Street development (later rebranded Liverpool One). Since then, more of these privately owned public spaces (POPS) have been appearing across the UK, including Granary Square and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, and Brindleyplace in Birmingham.

The evolution of public space

Until relatively recently, local government owned, managed and maintained streets and squares in the UK’s towns and cities. But over the past two decades, budgetary constraints have diminished local authorities’ ability to maintain the public realm. Increasingly, the gap has been filled by the private sector, which has created new POPS.

On the face of it, the redevelopment of previously run-down areas with no cost to the public purse would appear to be a good thing. But there are concerns about the private landlords of these spaces who have the power to restrict and control activities of the public using these spaces.  Alongside these new private-public developments, the rise of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) has increased private sector influence over town and city centres.

A bridge too far?

The issue of privatised public spaces was given renewed prominence with the proposals for a new “Garden Bridge” across the River Thames. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick  the project envisions a pedestrian bridge with its own elevated garden.

Supporters say the Garden Bridge will enrich London, providing economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits. But opponents have expressed concerns about a list of rules prohibiting activities on the bridge, such as busking and cycling. Restrictions of this kind have been applied to other POPS, sometimes resulting in awkward encounters between members of the public and security guards representing the property managers.

As things stand, the fate of the Garden Bridge remains uncertain, following the decision by the Mayor of London to set up an inquiry into the project’s use of public money, and a warning from the National Audit Office that the money may have been wasted.

The pros and cons of POPS

But does it really matter if urban spaces that appear to be public are actually privately-owned?

No, say POPS supporters. Without private funding, spaces such as Brindleyplace and LiverpoolOne might not have been developed at all. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining these privately owned public spaces can be borne by the private sector, instead of local authorities (and the taxpayer). They also point to Liverpool One as a successful example of town centre regeneration, and suggest that private ownership of public space can be a catalyst for renewal of neglected spaces.

But others are unhappy with the creeping privatisation of public spaces, arguing that they sacrifice community spirit and historical identity for the sake of a sterile, monotonous, corporatised spaces. Opponents of POPS are also concerned about the restrictions land owners place on such spaces.

The view from Aberdeen

One city which has recently bucked the trend towards private control over public spaces is Aberdeen. In 2010, the city council planned to hand over the historic Union Terrace Gardens in the city centre to a consortium of business interests – Aberdeen City Garden Trust – under a long lease. The trust released its plans to redesign the Victorian park, raising the sunken gardens to street level. Campaign groups mounted opposition to the scheme, but it was narrowly approved in a city-wide referendum in 2012. However, a new Labour administration came to power shortly after the referendum, and the scheme was finally scrapped. During the summer of 2016, the council announced new plans to redevelop the site, which will remain in public hands.

Final thoughts

The Aberdeen example shows that moves to put public spaces in private hands are not universally popular, or inevitable. Even so, many local authorities are struggling to maintain public spaces, leaving the way open for private developers. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in the borough of Newham, is one of the most recent POPS to appear in London. Sir Robin Wales, the elected mayor of Newham would have preferred the park to be maintained using public funds, but has accepted that his borough could not afford to manage it: “We know we don’t have an income stream.”

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Single sector Business Improvement Districts: the future of BIDS in Scotland?

As a model to promote economic development, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been a success in Scotland. Under the watchful eye and guidance of the umbrella body BIDS Scotland, the framework has grown and in many ways looks very different from the 5 initial ‘pathfinder BIDs in 2006 (the first being Bathgate BID). However, the underlying principles, values and aims remain constant.

Single sector BIDs

The traditional model sees businesses within a local area enter into a financial partnership, with each member paying a levy towards improving and promoting economic development within a community, in partnership with local authorities and other bodies. By working together businesses can reduce costs, share risks and create new platforms for growth, while for local authorities the benefits include the potential to drive growth and investment in the local area and to obtain help in raising additional funds to do this.

However, the flexibility of the model and the way it fits it with both local and national agendas has been a big part of its success, and groups are now trying to apply the framework to new contexts in alternative and innovative ways. One of these new style frameworks is the idea of single sector BIDs. Their role was part of the discussion at the BIDS Scotland 10 year anniversary conference held in Perth last month.

Image via Rebecca Jackson

Image via Rebecca Jackson

Single sector BIDs, as supporters have pointed out, come with their own unique sets of challenges and benefits compared to the traditional BID model, but they are no less effective. They allow groups of businesses with common interests and common agendas to come together, cooperate, organise and collectively promote their goods and services with a view to develop not only their own businesses but those of others in their area and the local community as a whole.

A BID for food and drink

Within East Lothian plans are currently under way, and awaiting ballot, to officially form what is thought to be the world’s first ‘food and drinks BID’. They have adapted the BID model to cover a wider geographic area than the original BIDs model intended, as it was initially focussed around town and city centres and encompassed a number of different types of business.

Instead the single sector BID model encompasses businesses which sit within the food and drink industry, with a view to promoting East Lothian food and drink, support local business and create a unified voice and brand to market themselves and East Lothian as a quality provider of exquisite produce. They have had strong support from their local authority as well as from national bodies like Scotland Food and Drink. Together, local producers and sellers have been working with these statutory bodies to form their BID partnership. In May 2015 the partnership was awarded a seedcorn grant to develop their Food and Drink BID in East Lothian.

Because the businesses within the proposed BID are varied in terms of size and scope, it was decided to create levy bands relating to the number of employees, rather than rateable value, as had previously been the traditional model. The BID group also introduced a voluntary levy scheme for businesses such as farmers, who wanted to be included in the BID group as producers but were not eligible to under the current BID legislation.

The issue with legislation regarding urban and rural BIDs and the increased difficulty rural businesses have in joining BIDS, (both because of their geographic isolation and their size and categorisation within current legislation) is something which the BID group in East Lothian have stated they are trying to address and mitigate as best they can.

Rural_Urban Landscape_iStock_000004526499Medium

Many observers are watching keenly to see if the single sector BID model could be applied across a wider geographical area, or across additional sectors. Suggestions have already been put forward for a canals BID within Scotland, a universities BID, as well as potentially creating food and drink BIDS in other areas such as Ayrshire and Perthshire. These could potentially form a network of BIDS across the food and drink sector, enabling individual businesses to create a stronger lobbying voice.

The future of BIDs in Scotland?

It is now the case that BIDs in Scotland are not restricted to town and city centres and can be developed in areas such as the tourism and visitor sector, commercial or industrial districts areas, rural areas, agriculture or, as this blog has highlighted, single sector business groups. The flexibility of the model and the increased levels of partnership working act as ways to spread accountability, create legitimacy through collective action and generate additional funding for a local area.

Together these elements make BIDs an interesting proposition for many businesses in Scotland and it is this flexibility, legitimacy and promotion of partnership which has driven the BID model into new and innovative areas, transforming the nature of the relationship between local businesses and statutory bodies within communities and transforming the nature of economic development and community resilience agendas.

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Evolution or revolution … the challenge of delivering future high streets

The crisis facing our high streets and town centres shows no sign of ending, with end-of-year figures revealing that December was the ninth consecutive month in which shopper footfall declined. The vacancy rate of high street premises also continues to be high – an estimated one in nine premises are lying empty across the UK.

This data suggests a systemic problem for present-day retailing and town centres. The causes are complex including business locational strategies, planning decision-making, consumer spending and expectations, household debt, technology and online shopping opportunities. In addition, inquiries such as the Scottish National Review of Town Centres and the Future High Street Forum evidence review, have shown that town centres remain a pressing planning challenge, with strategic and local ramifications in terms of economic, social and environmental well-being.

Making our town centres more resilient will require changing our attitudes to the use and management of these spaces. They need to deliver a mixed and diverse economy, and provide social experiences not just retail. But while this message seems to be accepted, putting it into practice seems to be more problematic.

Policies into practice

At a policy level, the National Review of Town Centres in Scotland asserted the case for a deliberate ‘town centre first’ principle to stem the leeching of investment and retailing activity to out of town locales. The review also advocated the diversification of town centre activities, including provision of residential uses and affordable housing. This was broadly accepted by the Scottish Government; and the Town Centre First principle, agreed with COSLA, to discharge a ‘collective responsibility to help town centres thrive sustainably, reinvent their function, and meet the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors for the 21st century’ sums up this ambition.

Meanwhile Paragraph 23 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), along with the revised National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) on town centre development and planning, recognises town centres as being at the heart of communities.

Addressing complexity

In practice, however, the ongoing failure of many high streets suggests that they are not transforming at the rate or scale that is needed.

Positive, organised and strategic (joined up) intervention, working across the public and private sectors, seems to be the only way to address a highly complex matter. Initiatives such as business improvement districts (BIDs) have been trialling new ways of managing and marketing successful town centres. A report last year from the Centre for Policy Studies looked at the positive impact of the 41 BIDs within London – 7.6% of London firms and over 11% of the total London workforce were located in BID areas.

The report noted that outside of London and Scotland, property owners cannot financially contribute to the measure. Business tenants tend to demonstrate relatively more short-term approaches to the development of the BID, so rolling out of property owner BIDs across England could be a way to maximise the full potential of the business-led measure.

Applying lessons from London to other parts of the country can be problematic however – after all, London is a city and a city-region with a very marked concentration of economic and political power in terms of investment, spending power and employment. The experience there of economic resilience does not resonate with the circumstances elsewhere across England and the UK.

Moreover, BIDs involve not simply economic considerations but complex issues around governance, democracy and transparency. Understanding the challenges of town centres must involve an appreciation of market decisions and the unintended consequences of government actions to address those very problems.

The barriers created by complexity were also raised last month in a report arguing for town centre investment zones to align initiatives and unlock improvement. Pooling a critical mass of property assets into an investment vehicle could allow area-wide problems to be tackled.

The community dimension

What seems to be missing from the town centre debate at the moment is a specific focus on the causes of a tangible malaise – the loss of community in many urban areas. The BID concept could very well be a compelling one, but a wider and more informed political conversation is needed before we dismantle all public interest considerations.

And so the conundrum at the heart of our towns and cities remains … how do we create and maintain vibrant places that people want to work and live in, when our planning and economic policies are still geared towards prioritising growth over wellbeing?

And how do we transform our high streets in a strategic way, to meet the needs of 21st century living?

This blog draws on the article by Professor Greg Lloyd that first appeared in Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal: Greg Lloyd (2015) High streets again! SPEL 172, pp124-125

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The rising price of checking in: is there a case for visitor taxes, or will business fund tourism development?

Tourism has a big impact on the UK economy. Figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council show that:

  • The total contribution of travel and tourism to UK GDP was £187.7bn in 2014, and is forecast to rise to £263.9bn in 2025
  • In 2014 travel and tourism directly supported 5.7% of total UK employment
  • Visitor exports from the UK generated £27.4bn (5.6% of total exports) in 2014
  • Travel and tourism investment in 2014 was £13.0bn (4.2% of total investment).

However, tourism development comes at a price, and often the burden falls on local government. Museums and galleries require year-round maintenance; organising, policing and cleaning up after major events can generate significant costs, and spreading the word about an area’s attractions can be expensive. At the same time, responding to the environmental impacts of tourism – from waste management to traffic congestion – can put additional strains on local budgets that are already under pressure from austerity measures.

Which is why some councils have been revisiting the idea of taxing the tourist.

A case for local tourism taxes?

In some of the world’s major cities, accommodation taxes for overseas tourists have become commonplace:

  • Paris charges a city tax based on the grading of the hotel and the part of town it’s in
  • New York bases its hotel tax on a formula of a set amount based on the room value
  • Berlin levies a tax of 5% of the room rate, but has a business traveller exemption

In the UK, accommodation taxes have failed to gain widespread support. The 2007 Lyons Inquiry into the role, function and funding of English Local Government floated the idea of a local visitor tax to be levied by local authorities.

“… in some areas there may be a case for a tourist related tax, developed in partnership with local businesses and residents – possibly through an annual bed licensing scheme levied on operators, or alternatively by directly levying the tax on overnight visitors.”

Both the Labour government and the opposition parties made it clear that they would not be taking the Lyons recommendation any further.

However, the recession of 2008 and subsequent budgetary pressures on local government have forced local authorities to find additional sources of revenue to support tourism development.

  • In 2015, Camden Council was reported to be looking at adopting a £1-a-night bed tax, similar to charges used in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. It was estimated that the additional charge could raise £5m a year which could be used for additional street cleaning in popular tourist areas.
  • Edinburgh City Council proposed the introduction of a tourist tax to help pay for major events, such as the city’s world-famous arts festivals and Hogmanay celebrations.

In 2013, the London Finance Commission suggested a tourism tax could have particular potential in London because of the size and needs of the capital’s leisure and tourism industry:

“If the city’s cultural, tourist and  entertainment industry are to flourish, there is a powerful argument for a levy that could then be reinvested in marketing and urban realm improvements.”

 The tourist sector’s view

The UK’s tourist industry is strongly against imposing additional charges on tourists, arguing that VAT and the air passenger levy already make the UK one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Europe.

Edinburgh’s proposed tourist tax provoked strong opposition from the industry. A spokesman for an alliance of 250 Scottish tourism businesses and organisations said:

“We are already contributing a huge amount to the economy. It is too easy to take a swipe at us. Scotland is already an expensive place to come and visit because of the value of the euro at present. A tourist tax would simply add further expense for the visitor coming here.”

Another way forward?

Although there is support in some local authorities for an accommodation tax on visitors, the powers to impose such taxes would require new legislation, which in the present political climate is unlikely.

An alternative route to finding additional funding may be found in the idea of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). These are business-led partnerships which are created to improve the business environment of a commercial area through, for example, improvements to infrastructure and services, public safety, promotion and marketing. The Centre for London has suggested that the BIDs idea could be further developed to create Tourist BIDs, or T-BIDs. In the United States, T-BIDs have been credited with reshaping the tourism landscape and boosting visitor numbers by specifically funding tourism development.

In 2014, the UK’s first T-BID was established when six Highland Council wards voted to establish the Loch Ness and Inverness Tourism BID. Further T-BIDs have also been proposed in Birmingham and Torbay, and it appears that Edinburgh is now also thinking along these lines. The idea is not without its critics, and some businesses have expressed concern that it may amount to a “backdoor tourism tax.”

There are no quick fixes to the challenge of financing tourism development, but if the UK’s visitor economy is to continue growing, the public and private sectors need to continue exploring funding models that meet escalating demands.

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