Bidding for the future: interview with Ian Davison Porter

Written by on 19 February 2014 in Feature

Ian Davison Porter is director of Business Improvement Districts Scotland (BIDS)

A BID is a precisely defined geographical area of a town, commercial district or tourism and visitor area, where businesses vote to invest collectively in local improvements resulting in an improved business environment and improved local economic growth. BIDs are developed, managed and paid for by the commercial sector by means of a compulsory BID levy. Before agreeing to fund the additional investment, businesses themselves decide how their money will be spent and how much they are prepared to pay. Each business liable to contribute to the BID will be able to vote on whether or not that BID goes ahead.

The first national survey of BIDs in Scotland, published in December, highlighted the key contribution they are making at a local level. The report provides a snapshot of the impacts and outcomes of the 19 established BIDs across Scotland and some of the facts and figures demonstrate their input to Scotland’s economic development. The report found BIDs are already leveraging over £16m of additional investment, over and above the £17m contributed in levy collection, through a combination of public and private capital, over the initial five year period.

In Scotland, BIDs are not restricted to town or city centres and can be developed in areas such as the tourism and visitor sector, commercial or industrial districts areas; rural areas; and agriculture or single sector business groups who wish to collectively improve their trading environment.

They are often, although not exclusively, a partnership arrangement through which the local business community and the statutory authorities can take forward projects which will benefit the local economy. Business Improvement Districts Scotland (BIDS), which encourages and brings together the individuals BIDs from across Scotland, sharing knowledge and information whilst informing and developing BIDs policy across the country, said the districts are not substitute for central or local government investment, but an additional investment to strengthen the local economy and give local businesses a unified voice, helping to provide an arena for businesses and local authorities to increase their understanding of each others priorities.

BIDS director Ian Davison Porter said: “The BIDs across Scotland are delivering for their businesses through a very diverse range of projects, with businesses collectively working to improve their environment. It is this strength of collective working by the businesses and the important contribution of the local authorities that is delivering local improvements. Although evident in some of the earlier BIDs, working with the local community and local groups is increasing across the BIDs, with strong local partnerships with community councils, development trusts and other local interest groups saving time and effort, preventing duplication and delivering co-ordinated action to the benefit of the wider community.”

The national survey report states: “Overall, BIDs have made a substantial contribution to the towns, cities and other communities where they operate. In headline terms the BIDs in Scotland involve over 7,200 businesses, increasing to over 16,500 by the end of 2014; a total private sector investment of over £17.8 million from businesses over their five year terms; secured additional leveraged investment of £16.3 million over their five year terms, generating a total return of £0.92p for every £1 of BID levy raised; and a total investment of over £34m inclusive of property investment and Town Centre Regeneration Fund.

“The current group of BIDs is heavily focused in town and city centres, however, the development of BIDs is being adopted across Scotland in a much more diverse way, as permitted by legislation. The legislation in Scotland is very flexible, with BIDs established predominantly as a local partnership of businesses, but with a financial mechanism which ensures delivery can be adapted to fit a number of specific local circumstances. Whilst early interest was mainly from towns and cities, the flexibility of the Scottish legislation is now better understood, and rural, tourism and visitor, food and drink and themed BIDs are now in development.

“In addition, interest in BIDs has been shown by Scottish Canals, Scotland’s Food and Drink, Universities Scotland (with the opportunity to link ‘hubs of enterprise’ and graduates to employment and work experience), the Scottish Tourism Forum and other bodies and agencies. BIDs are also being developed by Development Trusts Association Scotland as a bolt-on to existing trust entities.

“The structure and legislation of BIDs in Scotland is widely regarded as good practice and has been examined by the Northern Ireland Assembly in developing its own BID legislation and the Welsh Assembly when considering amendments to its BIDs legislation. Even in the face of severe economic circumstances there has been no decline in the level of interest shown in the development of BIDs from across the business sectors, or by national organisations. There is a widespread understanding that positive action is required if change and improvement is to be delivered locally.

“It is critical to note that the integrated support provided by the Scottish Government and BIDs Scotland is vital in assisting local communities grow stronger through collective effort and investment, improving the sense of place, growing the local economy and engendering civic pride that would not have happened in the absence of a BID.”

Speaking to Holyrood, Davison Porter said a BID is essentially about businesses working collectively together. He added: “It is also about businesses working with their local authority to improve their own business environment and community. Sometimes BIDs are seen purely as a private sector business venture when in fact they are very much part of the community. A lot of aspects businesses are looking to improve are what the local community and residents also want to see improved, as does the local authority. It is much more rooted in the community than people at first think.

“The outstanding benefit of a BID is you have a really strong local partnership. You tend to find they are in partnerships with community councils, the local chamber, with local interest groups and they work alongside local development trusts, so you are involving the local people and working with the local authority. One of the standout aspects of a BID in Scotland is the partnership working between the BID and the local authority.”

He added: “We are looking to expand BIDs across the country, we’ll definitely be at 50 by the end of this year, I like to think we’ll be at 150 by 2020. In the main, a lot of business improvement districts have been started by SME or independent businesses because they recognise the benefits of working together. That’s not just across town centres, the BIDs model can be used in rural areas. We’ve got people looking at rural BIDs, food BIDs, in addition to business parks which offer a huge opportunity. Business parks, like town centres, are areas where there is a lot of local employment.

“We are looking forward to a busy year in 2014 – we’ve got 25 BIDs in development across different sectors. I’m expecting that over the next 12 months, we’ll have another 10 in development.”

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