Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the British Retail Consortium (LGB 40)

  The BRC welcome the Inquiry by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee into the Draft Local Government Bill. Our evidence deals solely with the draft proposals for the introduction of Business Improvement Districts in the UK.

A vibrant retail sector is key to the revitalisation and renewal of urban and rural communities across Britain. Our members provide a vital community service, a focus for physical regeneration, and sustained investment in people and places through more than 321,000 retail outlets. As such the retail sector have a crucial role in improving and managing the urban environment. This is a far bigger issue than shopping alone. High streets and other shopping locations are a key opportunity for people to gather, to exchange views, to mix with those from other backgrounds, to experience art and culture, and to enjoy their leisure time. As such an attractive urban environment is an important component of local democracy and social inclusion. We welcome the draft Bill's proposals on BIDs as providing a key tool for delivering an attractive urban environment. We believe the Government is right to use legislation to slay out the broad framework while leaving the fine detail to be addressed through guidance, being developed jointly by the BRC and a range of other groups.

The BRC believes that, it implemented successfully BIDs could serve a wide variety of purposes for retailers and the community at large.

What could be the benefits from BIDs?—  Commercial Benefits: For retailers the key benefit from successful BIDs would be improvements to the bottom line through higher footfall and sales. The drivers for this commercial change will vary from location to location but several key priorities are clear:

—  Security: A key problem in maintaining anti-crime measures has been the inability to generate sustainable funding. We view BIDs as a key tool for tackling retail crime and crime more generally. The BRC views BIDs as an excellent opportunity for local businesses, in partnership with the police and other stakeholders, to invest in local anti-crime initiatives. Street wardens, CCTV, new and improved street-lighting, and measures to tackle graffiti and vandalism should all be the initial focus of the first wave of UK Business Improvement Districts. Clean and safe streets and neighbourhoods are in everyone's interests.

—  Cleanliness & environment: A second element of improving the public realm and the retail offer is the standard of cleanliness and the quality of the environment. In our view BIDs should, once baseline service delivery has been agreed with a local authority, aim to improve cleanliness as a top priority. Investments in the physical environment (including flower-baskets, litter bins etc) may also be important, depending on the location.

—  Regeneration: Given effective public sector support BIDs could bring much-needed regeneration into areas currently suffering from stagnation and decline.

—  Local Government: For retailers another benefit of a successful BID could be the opportunity to have effective dialogue with local government across a range of issues. BIDs could improve the relationship between businesses and local government, by creating feelings of trust and shared aims and objectives.

A number of key issues need to be addressed:

  Additionality: To gain the support of retailers BIDs must bring additional resources and identifiable improvements. We are glad that the draft Bill states that BID income must be directed towards new and additional activity as opposed to existing services already provided to businesses from local authorities.

Business should play a key role: The objectives and expertise of the private sector should be harnessed, through a BID, towards the public realm. In more deprived areas this will be more challenging due to the likelihood that the private sector will be much smaller size. It also poses a challenge for local government to work in partnership with local businesses.

The role of property owners: Property owners have a key long-term interest in urban management—whether through a BID or the continuation of an existing voluntary scheme. The benefits of a successful scheme—higher land and property values leading to higher rents—will be felt most keenly by the owners of property not those who occupy. Indeed landowners have been involved in a large number of voluntary BID-style arrangements to date. Their involvement in schemes under this legislation should be more clearly encouraged. Our preffered option would be that the business plan proposal, on which rate payers are asked to vote, should in most circumstances, aim to include commitments from property owners and the public sector. The draft Bill does allow this and provides for wider flexibility on how BID revenue is raised. Retailers would like the Government to raise awareness of this and highlight the benefits to property owners and landlords of getting involved.

Protection from poor proposals: For BIDs to succeed they must gain in depth support from the local business community. We are glad the dual voting mechanism (by rateable value and by individual ratepayer) has been incorporated in legislation. This should prevent smaller ratepayers from being outvoted by rateable value and larger ratepayers from being outvoted by individual heriditament. We welcome the commitment in the White Paper that there will also be a requirement for a petition of 5-10 per cent of ratepayers before a vote can be called. This will protect retailers from poor proposals and local authorities from co-ordinating poorly supported ballots. We also strongly endorse the idea of some kind of turnout threshold that must be met for the vote to be carried forward into implementation.

Defining the geographical area: Both the aims and the physical extent of the BID must be well defined. It is likely that tightly focussed BIDs will be able to achieve greater buy-in from the local business community.

Cocktails of funding: BIDs will be able to achieve more if they successfully combine business and public sector funding. A "joined up" approach should aim to tap into regeneration funding, security and crime funding, health funding and a variety of other governmental and non-governmental sources. To build momentum behind the BIDs initiative the Government should ensure that different funding schemes are available to BID proposals and that different departments co-ordinate their activities to improve and manage in the public realm.

Other partnerships may be more appropriate: BIDs are just one form of partnership. Other successful mechanisms, such as community projects organised by individual or small groups of employers, should not be displaced or jeopardised. And BIDs will not always be appropriate or feasible, eg in very deprived areas with a weak business presence.

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