Background to a Harrogate BID
If you are an independent business owner with a business in the centre of Harrogate you may have heard of the Harrogate BID (or Harrogate Business Improvement District). If you haven’t then you’ll likely be getting a visit soon or will see more information in the press.
In this blog I want to introduce the organisation and then give you my reasons for believing this is something that the business community in Harrogate should be supporting. There is also a very helpful newsletter available from the Harrogate BID website (click image).
What is the Harrogate BID?
A BID is a business led organisation that, if voted in, has a remit for running projects to promote and improve a specific area of a village, town or city. There are various different types of BID and I’m not going into the detail about them here, you can read more here if you would like to.
The Harrogate BID has been proposed to include primarily the town centre with branches that extend to take in certain additional areas as appropriate. A detailed map is on the BID website.
The Harrogate BID is currently led by a BID Task Group chaired by John Fox with help from Mo Aswat of ‘The Mosaic Partnership’; a consultancy firm who have been involved with a significant number of successful BID attempts.
How is the Harrogate BID Funded?
A BID is funded by the businesses that are located within the BID area. The funding is a levy on businesses rates usually at around 1.5% of the rateable value of the property.
The BID is able to define the criteria for inclusion by excluding certain businesses and in Harrogate they have done exactly this. Any business with a rateable value less that £20k will not be charged; this is good news for the smallest businesses in town.
In order or the BID to be created it must be voted in by more than 50% of the rates payers and also a combined total of over 50% of the total rates value. What this means is that small business can’t force a BID through by sheer numbers and big business can’t force it through with the clout of being the biggest rates payers. Both ends of the spectrum are required.
If the BID is successful everyone within the BID area will have to pay the levy, irrespective of how they voted. The BID is voted in for a term of 5 years and for it to continue there would need to be another vote.
What could a Harrogate BID do?
As a business led organisation the BID is accountable to the stakeholders of the BID for delivering projects that are regarded as being good value. Projects can take all sorts of forms from additional street cleaning provision, events, greeters, cultural projects, physical improvements and lots lots more.
The BID is not there to replace council services and to ensure this doesn’t happen a Service Level Agreement will be defined with Harrogate Borough Council as part of the BID process.
Why do we need a Harrogate BID?
Harrogate is situated in the middle of an area surrounded by BIDs. Leeds, Skipton, York and North Allerton all have BIDs. Ripon are looking at a BID and are slightly behind Harrogate along the pathway. If we want to be able to represent our town in a positive light over the coming years then we need this organisation and the attached funding in place.
Single Point of Contact
The town centre is a fairly disjointed group of businesses trying to look after themselves. Many of us are in survival mode and that goes for retail, hospitality and other sectors too. There is no single point of contact, nothing to rally around and bring people together. The Harrogate BID can become a figurehead and by it’s all inclusive nature it can bring all players within the town centre together irrespective of ownership structure and sector.
We need a plan
Over the last few months retail in particular has been in the spotlight with some negative developments on the high street and large stores disappearing. There is a feeling amongst residents that Harrogate is losing (or has long lost) it’s edge when compared to the city centres and out of town developments that surround us.
On a personal note I can’t see this trend reversing in the short or medium term. The retail landscape is changing and landlords are fast finding out that their previously valuable assets are being devalued as consumer habits change. There is a real danger that unsustainable rents, and to some extent business rates, will mean businesses just cannot justify the outlay of existing on the high street. The effect this will have is that potential customers will choose to travel to other areas, the situation for existing businesses will further deteriorate and Harrogate Town Centre will enter a downward spiral that it can’t pull out of.
I firmly believe that the high street of 5 or 10 years time will be vastly different to how it looks today, We need to discuss a viable plan that engages landlords, the local authority, businesses big and small and residents. A plan that reimagines how our space in the centre of town is used and begins to work on projects that will facilitate a change.
Who will do it?
The person to lead the Harrogate BID is a key question. I cannot speak for the people currently leading the BID but I would expect that a reasonable budget will be allocated to a Chief Executive’s salary. The Harrogate BID team will be small by necessity so recruiting the right leader is going to be crucial. It needs someone with vision, experience, an uncanny ability bring disparate groups together and the skill to get a lot done with very limited resource. They will need lots of support from the business community in order to create a multiplier effect that delivers significantly more value than we are paying for via the levy.
How can you get involved with the Harrogate BID?
The first thing you can do to get involved is to fill out the questionnaire on the Harrogate BID website. I’ve filled it out and it’s only a 10 minute job.
If you want to be part of the steering committee or are able to be a point of contact for the businesses on your street then volunteers are being requested, you can make yourself known via the survey.
There are some industry specific consultation sessions slated for later in the year to start finding out where the areas of most pain are for businesses in the town centre, more information will no doubt come out about those before long.
We have local elections coming up in the near future and whilst they are important, as a small business owner, I think that the vote for the Harrogate BID will be the most important vote I cast this year. If nothing else it is important that we engage with this campaign, understand the implications and make informed decisions.
It doesn’t matter to me how you vote, just please make sure that you consider doing so.