out BID ~ BID out
Alderman Norman Murphy writes, as Guest Author, to provide his explanation for why the Yorkshire Coast BID has proved such an unpopular ‘stealth tax’ burden on businesses attempting to survive following the pandemic and the ensuing economic hardship arising from the repayment of COVID ‘bounce back’ loans.
Following on from the many articles which have been published recently highlighting the rather dubious, behaviour and practices of the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District (YCBID), myself, and other commentators, have been literally inundated with requests for information and clarification on what exactly the YCBID is and why it actually exists.
Consequently, I thought it might be illuminating for readers if I were to give my interpretation of how the YCBID functions, its relationship with Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) and East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC), and offer an insight into where the YCBID has been and where it is heading.
Many readers will by now be aware of the basic premise upon which the YCBID was established but, for clarity, I feel it is worth setting out, at this stage, how the YCBID was formed and what its aims and objectives awer and are.
The YCBID was set up, as have been so many BIDs, by a firm called Mosaic Partnerships. This organisation, owned by a guy called Mo Aswat, controls and runs loads of BIDs up and down the country. Anyway, Aswat, seeing an opportunity to inflict a BID on our region approached SBC with an offer to set one up along our coast.
His pitch to SBC was very similar to that used in most BID areas and that is; “Let me set up a BID and we will all make a fortune”.
So what is in it for Councils?
Well a BID, once it is set up, is a gravy train like no other. A typical model, such as we have here on the Yorkshire Coast, requires the local Council (in this instance SBC) to impose on a select number of local businesses, in our case 1,354, a Levy on their Rateable Value of 1.5 %.
This amount, although it seems small, is, in fact, huge and it generates, over the five year term of the BID, over £5 million spondulies.
Not, I think we can all agree, an inconsiderable amount of money.
Now quite obviously, any Council, especially a GREEDY Council, such as SBC, would want to get their grubby little mitts on such a hugely tempting sum of money. And of course SBC Officers wanted a share of this money so bad that they would have sold their grannies to get in on the action.
So Aswat did not have to try very hard to get SBC Officers to recommend to elected members of the Council that they should set up the YCBID.
Under the rules prescribed by government, SBC would impose the Levy, raking in a colossal £5 million plus. They would then pass this money over to the YCBID Board, the Levy payers would be lawfully fleeced and. hey presto, the gravy train would be safely on the track.
This BID set up can best be described, perhaps, as a legalised MAFIA-style PROTECTION RACKET. The BID Board are the DONS, sat at the top table not getting their hands dirty. SBC may be seen as the DONS’ henchmen and women, enforcing Levy collection, while the victims are the Levy-payers; threatened and intimidated, even told they will go to jail, if they don’t pay up.
So what, you might ask, would incentivise Council Officers (such as those at SBC) to back the BID?
Well as, we all know only too well, Council Officers do not do anything unless there is something in it for themselves and, as we have seen, there is plenty of gravy in the YCBID.
So what are the incentives? Well the incentives work in two ways – both, no one will be surprised to learn, based on GREED.
Firstly, BIDs offer Councils a way of offloading any services or functions they either don’t want to do, which of course is just about everything, or that they don’t want to pay for, which again is just about everything.
BIDs tell Councils that they can transfer over to the BID just about any function or service they don’t want to bother with and the BID will take responsibility for the service or function and pay for its provision out of Levy-payers’ money.
Of course, the BID then just ignores its commitment to provide the service or function and trousers the money saved.
The service or function is therefore neglected but – and here’s the clever part – if ratepayers complain to the Council that a function or service that they took for granted would be provided, but is now not provided, all the Council does is refer the angry Levy-payer over to the BID.
The BID, a private company, with no obligation to provide the service or function just tells the angry Levy-payer to f*ck off. Problem solved.
The second incentive again revolves around GREED, but this is more in the form of personal GREED. As can be seen, the BID receives a shed load of money each year. This money, as the BID is a private company, can be used in any way the BID Chairman sees fit.
The BID does not have to provide anyone with detailed accounts, their Board meetings are secret, held behind closed doors, the minutes are sparse (to say the least) and give Levy-payers little or no information and anyone who disagrees with the Board Chairman is thrown off the Board.
Levy-payers – i.e. those who fund the BID – have no say and have no rights, the BID Board is all powerful and answers to NO higher authority.
Naturally, this leaves the way open for a very selective distribution of BID funds.
If, for example, the BID decided to back a scheme which involved say, a fact-finding trip to Canada by selected Board members; no problem.
Or, perhaps, an all-expenses trip to Poland to inspect a factory that produces, say, plastic puffins; no problem.
Or what about, say, a good piss-up with a free slap-up meal, ‘sell’ it to the Levy-payers as an awards ceremony, even give out a few awards for excellence to Board members; no problem.
Indeed, it is rumoured that once the YCBID was signed into law, senior SBC Council Officers were observed dancing round the Town Hall singing “We’re in the money! We’re in the money!”
So the BID company, when it approaches a Council, is invariably pushing at an open door.
THE SHEEP HAVE TEETH
However, sadly for YCBID and SBC, the happy times seem to be coming to a sticky end, and the sheep the YCBID have been fleecing for three years – the Levy-payers – are fighting back.
Increasingly, Levy-payers are seeing the YCBID for what it is; a money-making racket for which they are being forced to pay, by SBC.
This realisation has led to a mass refusal to pay the Levy, even if this means non-payers will have to appear in court.
Indeed, the courts are where many Levy-payers want to be, so that they can plead their case that the YCBID is nothing more than an extortion racket; and they will not pay.
Normally, of course, this rebellion would not bother either the BID or SBC and they would just crack on persecuting Levy-payers, just as the French Revolutionaries chopped off the heads of the French aristocrats.
However, the size of the rebellion (getting on for 400 Levy-payers and rising) seems to have shocked SBC and they have in recent months hurriedly back tracked on their support for the YCBID.
SBC have recently brought in a Vote of No Confidence in the YCBID Board and their own representative, Bin-man Bradley, has now been pulled from the Board, and very releaved to be out of it I hear he is.
The court cases SBC and ERYC were bringing against non-payers scheduled for July have been postponed. The judges ruled that they would reconvene the hearing for 3 November, allowing time for the court and the anti-BID campaigners to have the opportunity to see internal YCBID and SBC documents.
This ruling, completely unexpected, I am told, by the BID and SBC has, of course, opened up a rather nasty can of worms for both organisations.
Once these documents are released into the public domain, Levy-payers will at last be able to see what their money has been used for, and no doubt they will not be happy.
So, according to sources within the Town Hall SBC, Officers are now in a panic as there seems to be no way they can stop these rather incriminating documents being made public.
Needless to say, perhaps, they seem to have found a way of a least getting themselves off the hook.
SBC: DODGING THE BULLET?
As mentioned, the court case against the non-paying Levy-payers was supposed to be re-heard on November 3rd but somehow SBC have managed to get the hearing postponed until April 2023.
This date is, of course very significant, and highly fortuitous, as SBC ceases to exist on 31st March 2023 and all the senior Officers who were implicated in bringing in and supporting the YCBID, will be gone.
Nevertheless, in an effort no doubt to distance themselves still further from the YCBID, it may astonish readers to learn, that SBC themselves have now refused to pay this year’s Levy fees.
Rumour has it that SBC will soon be among the ranks of those taken to court, by themselves, as a non-Levy payer. You could not make this stuff up!!!
Nonetheless, even using these crafty ruses, SBC Officers might not be able to fight off a case of Malfeasance in Public Office, which I know many Levy-payers are eager to see brought against them.
Indeed, SBC Officers might now try to suck up to Levy-payers and endeavour to sneakily dive out the back door before the sh*t hits the fan. But stabbing the YCBID in the back, followed by an early departure from the Council, will hopefully not be enough to allow them to escape justice.
WILL THE YCBID BOARD TAKE THE RAP?
Nor, I suspect will the YCBID board members, if any of them are still around in April 2023, be able to dodge the bullet the Levy-payers have in store for them.
I am fairly sure that certain prominent anti-Levy payers will be very keen to press their case against YCBID Board members, and the elected members of SBC who have supported and protected them for so long, and I would not rule out Police involvement.
The long arm of the law is indeed, very long. It might even stretch all the way to TUSCANY.