Businesses in Harrogate were warned to either move with the times or be left behind at a packed Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday, which updated members on the progress of plans to establish a Business Improvement District (BID) in the town.
More than 100 residents, business owners and community stakeholders attended the Chamber’s first meeting of the year, where the consultancy firm tasked with taking the project forward stressed the importance of creating a BID that delivers for everyone.
The rising profile of BIDs across the UK
The Mosaic Partnership’s Managing Director, Mo Aswat, explained that 300 BIDs have now been launched in towns and cities across the UK, where business rate payers are charged a levy in addition to their business rates bill in a defined area.
The revenue is then used to drive forward ambitious projects to benefit businesses, decided by businesses, which must be additional improvements that Harrogate Borough Council and other local authorities do not already provide on a statutory basis.
Setting out a timescale to progress the plans for Harrogate BID, Mr Aswat said businesses can expect to be voting in October or November this year to have their say and determine whether the town will be opting in to the system.
Chief Executive and Secretary of Harrogate Sandra Doherty, Director of The Mosaic Partnership Mo Aswat, Chairman of Harrogate at Christmas John Fox and President of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce Mike Procter. (1801095AM).
Delivering for a broad range of businesses
A BID would be launched if the majority of businesses, both in number and their rateable value, voted it in. This time last year the Chamber met to discuss getting a BID off the ground, and since then Harrogate BID Ltd has been established to work with the consultancy and drum up enough support to successfully take the project to ballot.
Chamber President Mike Procter, sits on the board as a director, and he told business owners filling the Old Swan Hotel that his involvement stems from seeing an opportunity to make a difference to a broad range of businesses.
Finding the balance for a BID
Mr Procter said: “I got involved after I saw John Fox and the Harrogate at Christmas Group doing a fantastic job raising money for the Christmas lights, but it always struck me as extremely inequitable. Some businesses were paying a lot of money and some businesses were paying nothing.
“There was one point when one of our major streets in Harrogate contributed not one penny to it, and yet they had a very good display.
"Although the most visible beneficiaries are in the visitor economy, I’m very keen to see the BID be delivered for a broad range of businesses in an area with aligned interests.
"But if you have too small an area you don’t have the revenue of a larger area, and if you have an area for a BID that is geographically too broad, businesses won’t have interests sufficiently aligned for a BID to be meaningful - it’s about finding that balance.”
Plea to Harrogate businesses to not be complacent
It was announced at the meeting that Harrogate Borough Council will contribute a “significant income” to the BID, and they have agreed to match fund 50 per cent of the cost of trying to establish it.
A hot topic was how Leeds and other neighbouring towns and cities are making BID work for them, and John Bywater, the Chairman of Leeds BID at the time of its launch in 2015, urged Harrogate to not be complacent.
He said: “Think about where Leeds is, 15 miles away, and what the businesses are doing there, and what Harrogate is going to be in 10 years or five years from now if it doesn’t pull its socks up. Do not be complacent. Since we introduced the Leeds BID, I think Leeds has stepped up a lot in terms of what it offers.”
A task group to reflect the make-up of the business community
Harrogate BID Ltd hopes to have a feasibility study for the project finished within the next month. A representative task group will be set up to reflect the make-up of the business community in Harrogate, and detailed market research and consultation will then take place over four to six months.
There will then be a campaign phase promoting a business plan for the BID where businesses will be lobbied to vote yes. If the town backs BID at the polls, it would be launched in March or April 2019.
'A bid is only as good as the people involved'
Mr Aswat said a BID “is only as good as the people involved.” He said: “We can have all the glitzy stuff - websites, social media, but really with a BID what we find is it’s the personal one to one conversations that are the key things to persuade people to vote yes.
"People may have a lot of wishes, but not everything people are prepared to pay for. Ultimately the business plan has to deliver and go down from a hundred ideas of what to do, to five or 10 things that people are willing to pay for. While it’s a cost to businesses, it’s a return that they will make.”
'No need to look back'
BIDs last five years before they can be renewed, then a vote is taken again - Mr Aswat said over 90 BIDs have been renewed at a second or third ballot, but 50 plus BIDs have failed altogether at the first vote.
A question from the floor asked why talks to progress a Harrogate BID fell flat in 2005 when the Chamber had similar discussions, but the Chamber’s Chief Executive Officer Sandra Doherty, said there is “no need to look back.”
Responding to the question, Mr Aswat said: “At the end of 2005 there were only 12 to 15 BIDs, it was a very new concept and I think at the time there was a lot of nervousness, and no one would go for it, that BIDs weren’t proven.”
Standing shoulder to shoulder with businesses
Robert Ogden from Ogden of Harrogate asked how much of the success in Leeds is down to their BID, and cited York as an example where a BID has not seen many improvements.
Mr Aswat said: “It got through in York, but the set-up needed to deliver a BID was not really there and there wasn’t enough staffing when it started.”
Case studies of areas successfully using BID to make a difference were presented, including Bedford, where businesses came up with the idea of having BID vouchers, encouraging people to shop local.
The Chief Executive of Harrogate Borough Council, Wallace Sampson, said: “The council is willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with businesses if they want to take this forward.”