Sunday 23rd June 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

YCBID – Is It Right 4 U?

Guest Author Alderman NORMAN MURPHY explains the “whys and wherefores” of the Business Improvement District.

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Is a Business Improvement District the right option for your area?

Before a BID proposal is presented to a local authority, there are a number of steps the BID Proposer must complete to the satisfaction of the local authority, before a local authority can agree to allow the BID Proposal to go to ballot.

Below is a selection of the rules and regulations, best practice, etc, set out by the government, which should guide a local authority in their decision-making process with regard to considering whether a BID Proposal is eligible for consideration and allow it to go forward to ballot.

Taken from the Department for Communities and Local Government guidance and best practise: issued March 2015

1 Is a Business Improvement District the right option for your area? There are some fundamental issues you need to consider before taking forward the work necessary to establish a BID. You need to be clear why a BID is needed and what issues it will tackle.

2 A BID should engage effectively with local businesses that are likely to be affected by the proposal and become liable to pay the levy. You will struggle immensely with support for the BID if you try and take forward a proposal unilaterally, without ensuring that businesses have had the chance to hear about the proposals and had the opportunity to give their views.

3 It is essential that you establish a positive relationship with your Local Authority. It is important you identify a key contact at the authority and keep them informed of progress at every stage.

4 You also need to identify and discuss your ideas with other local stakeholders such as the town centre manager, town council, traders associations, etc. Each town has different stakeholders, you will need to identify and speak to them, keeping them regularly informed of progress.

5 BID proposers should obtain the list of businesses from their local authority, which can supply non-domestic rates information for all of the hereditaments (business units liable for nondomestic rates) in the BID area. This information will also form the basis of the voter database which is used to send out ballot papers. It is essential to ensure the information is accurate for levy billing purposes and that the correct voter name for the person eligible to vote in respect of each hereditament is included, so that the correct person can vote at the ballot. Experience from existing BIDs is that this process can be time consuming and needs sufficient resources to ensure it is completed on time.

As can be seen the guidance and best practice document, it is very detailed and covers many aspects of BID law,rules and regulations. The guidance gives detailed instructions to local authorities, and BID proposers, on the steps each needs to take to satisfy if a BID Proposal is to be allowed to go to ballot.

This briefing note will seek to establish whether each of the five crucial steps, listed above, have been satisfied.

As can be seen from the above, there are at least five requirements a BID Proposer must satisfy before the BID Proposal can be submitted to the local authority for consideration. The BID Proposer must, first and foremost, satisfy the local authority that the BID is needed and wanted.

IS THE NEW BID WANTED OR NEEDED?

So the first question the local authority should ask of a BID proposer is: what evidence do you have to suggest that the BID you are proposing is wanted or needed?

As per the guidance, the NEW BID Proposer has to prove to the local authority that the NEW BID is wanted and needed by the local businesses who will have to pay the mandatory levy. This can only be done by conducting extensive and detailed research with local businesses, meticulously catalogued and recorded, and then the conclusions presented to the local authority in a verifiable document. Only by following these basic, yet fundamental, guidelines, and providing verifiable evidence, can a BID Proposer establish that a BID is wanted or needed. As far as can be established no such evidence/document exists.

A BID SHOULD ENGAGE EFFECTIVELY WITH LOCAL BUSINESSES

Notwithstanding the absence of any verifiable evidence to suggest that the NEW BID proposal is either wanted or needed by local businesses, therefore making invalid the application to the local authorrity, the NEW BID Proposer has, nonetheless, put forward to the local authority their NEW BID Proposal for consideration.

The NEW BID Proposal, as set out clearly in the 2015 guidance, “should engage effectively with local businesses that are likely to be affected by the proposal and become liable to pay the levy.” Put simply, the NEW BID must conduct a thorough consultation exercise with the local businesses it wishes to include in the proposed NEW BID area.

This consultation should obviously be thoroughly conducted and again rigorously documented and recorded, and its conclusions be open to verification, especially by the local authority. To satisfy the requirement that the NEW BID company “engaged effectively with local businesses”, the BID company has offered to the local authority the evidence set out below.

Consultation with Business on the Proposal

    • An Impact Study carried out with the current Board of Directors in September 2023
    • A Newsletter and Renewal Survey was sent/made available to all levy payers in September 2023 with 124 responses.
    • Yorkshire Coast BID – One to One engagement with Levy Payers – October 2023
    • Yorkshire Coast BID – One to One engagement with Levy Payers – November 2023
    • Email issues to Levy Payers with survey link – December 2023
    • Additional Yorkshire Coast BID Team Members hired to visit levy payers – January to March 2024

1 IMPACT STUDY

The BID claims that An Impact Study [was] carried out with the current Board of Directors in September 2023”. The BID fails, however, to evidence who was at this meeting or to disclose what was discussed. What did the “Impact Study” concern? What were its objectives? Who set the questions? Who conducted the study? Who was consulted and what conclusions did the study reach?

The fact that the then Board of Directors, in September 2023, discussed an “Impact Study”, without clarifying the points listed above is totally meaningless, and is totally irrelevant in regard to supporting their application to NYC for a NEW BID.

Moreover, the fact that an impact survey was discussed by the Board of Directors in no way demonstrates “Extensive engagement”. What it demonstrates is that the Board discussed, or claim to have discussed, in private, an Impact Study the purpose and scope of which NYC, and certainly not the Levy payers, have not the slightest knowledge.

Far from confirming “Extensive engagement”, which is a prerequisite of putting forward a BID proposal and a key element which the BID are offering in support of their NEW BID proposal; the Impact Study, if it exists, and the claim that the Board, in private, discussed said survey, demonstrates a very narrow field of engagement, and certainly does not suggest “Extensive engagement”.

2 RENEWAL SURVEY

The BID next offers, in support of  their NEW BID proposal, the claim that, in September 2023, they sent out “A Newsletter and Renewal Survey [which] was sent/made available to “all levy payers” in September 2023, [and they received] 124 responses”.

If we accept that a newsletter and renewal survey was sent out in September 2023, to “all levypayers”, it follows that this newsletter and survey was sent to the 1,350 members of the existing YCBID. Accepting that this is the case, it brings into question three very relevant areas of contention.

1. Which levy-payers got the newsletter/survey? NYC are being asked to accept the fact that all existing levy-payers, in September 2023, got this communication to support the BID’s claim that they have conducted “Extensive engagement” with levy-payers, a prerequisite of the NEW BIDproposal, however, the BID have offered not the slightest proof  that all levy-payers received this communication.

2. Does 124 responses suggest that “all levy-payers” got the newsletter/survey? The BID company said they sent this newsletter/survey to “all levy-payers”, and that they got back from the survey 124 responses. There are, however, over 1,350 members in the current BID scheme, a response from124 indicates that less than 10% bothered to respond.

Does it seem remotely credible, in view of the degree of interest in the YCBID, that only 124, out of over 1,350 eligible to comment, would make the effort to make their views known to the BID company?

3. How does the survey support the BIDs claim of “Extensive engagement”? Even if it is correct that only 124 businesses bothered to respond, and the BID can prove that this is the case, what was the conclusion of the survey?

If the survey is to have any relevance to the current NEW BID application, which of course is what the BID are suggesting by listing it in support of the NEW BID application, NYC and potential NEW BID levy-payers need to see the results of the survey.

Were all levy-payers who responded in favour of the existing BID or were there dissenting voices among the respondents?  Where are the responses? Have the levy payers seen them? Has NYC seen them? Telling NYC and new and old levy-payers that a survey has taken place and then not providing any evidence of its outcome or result is a completely useless exercise and does not support the objective of “Extensive engagement” in any way, which is, of course, a prerequisite of the NEW BID Proposal.

The RENEWAL SURVEY of September 2023, as we all now know, is totally irrelevant to the current BID Proposal. The current BID Proposal, placed before NYC in 2024, is for a NEW BID. What was offered to “all levy-payers” in September 2023 was a survey of their opinions with regard to the renewal of the existing old BID; the old BID is not being renewed.

3 Yorkshire Coast BID – OnetoOne engagement with Levy-Payers – October 2023 and November 2023.

The BID suggests that in 2023 they consulted with some levy-payers in one-to-one engagements. The BID, however, offers no names of who these one to one engagements were with, how many there were, what was discussed or what conclusions were reached.

The whole exercise, if indeed it actually took place – which seems highly doubtful – is, in any case, completely irrelevant to the current NEW BID Proposal in every respect, and it begs the question, why would NYC even consider that unsubstantiated one-to-one interviews should contribute to establishing that the BID had engaged in “Extensive engagement”?

These so called one-to-one engagements in 2023 have not got the slightest relevance with regard to the current NEW BID Proposal and should not have even been listed as examples of “Extensive engagement” and certainly should not be considered by NYC to support this claim.

4 Email issues to LevyPayers with survey link – December 2023

It has been established that the old BID company did indeed produce a survey which it offered to levy-payers. However, the survey was very brief, and related in part to another project – Route YC.

There has been no indication provided as to how many levy-payers responded to the survey. There has been no feedback or conclusions formulated from the survey.

In no way could this survey be considered as supporting evidence that the BID had conducted “Extensive engagement” with levy payers.

5 Additional Yorkshire Coast BID Team Members hired to visit levypayers – January to March 2024

The BID have offered the above, that they hired additional team members to visit levy-payers from January to March 2023, as supporting evidence that they undertook “Extensive engagement” with levy-payers.

However, the BID have failed to provide any evidence that these additional team members visited levy-payers. They have failed to reveal how many levy-payers they visited. They have failed to provide examples of what these BID team members asked levy-payers. They have failed to offer any conclusions with regard to what the BID team members might have researched. Without written verifiable evidence that these team members actually canvassed and recorded the views they had with levy-payers, their existence may be viewed as a figment of the BIDs imagination.

Over to you, business proprietors . . .

 

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