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"Make your BID" event questions and answers

Thursday, 20th September 2012  Virgin Atlantic, The Base, Fleming Way 

Introduction

The Manor Royal Make your BID event was attended by 70plus delegates. The purpose was to report on the progress of the Manor Royal Business Group (MRBG) and to introduce the idea of creating a Business Improvement District (BID) to deliver those improvements identified by Manor Royal businesses and to explain how BIDs work. These notes provide a summary of the discussions that followed during the question and answer session. This is not a verbatim report. 

Broadband continues to be a significant problem

The example was given of continued problems caused by the lack of fast broadband resulting in as much as 6 hours of lost time each week. A show of hands indicated that this problem was shared. This issue first came to notice at the event at Thales in October 2011, before then this problem was not on the radar. Since then much has happened to prove the case, liaise with BT and get Manor Royal recognised by those parties dealing with broadband from the West Sussex County Council BDUK (broadband) project team and the Coast-to-Capital LEP. A meeting with senior members of BT is scheduled. The solution is funding to enable a number of cabinets for superfast broadband, however the market is unlikely to deliver itself. A good example of where businesses working together can make an impact.  

In terms of a BID, shouldn’t the Council be doing it and doing more 

Concern was expressed that the BID would be another cost to business and that it was the responsibility of the Council and Police to do more. This is a legitimate concern. The purpose of the BID is not to replace what the Council or Police should be doing but to hold them to account for what they should already be doing. The levy raised by the BID would be retained by a separate company made up of Manor Royal businesses and could only be spent on projects the businesses themselves identify as a priority. The aspiration of the BID would be to make it cost-neutral and represent value for money. In any event it was important people engaged, got involved and expressed their views about the BID and what it should deliver.  

Encouraging inter-trading was highlighted as important 

There was a feeling that more could be done in this regard and should be an objective of the BID. This would soften the perception of the BID as a “tax” by providing businesses with more opportunities to trade. The view was expressed that it was important to bring businesses together, big and small, and there was a degree of impatience about this.  

How much will it cost and how will success by measured? 

The cost to each business is set according to the rateable value of the premises they occupy, so it is fair and proportional. While 1% of rateable value is a typical BID levy, set for five years with the only change being for inflation, the levy is set by the businesses in accordance with what they are prepared to pay. For the smallest businesses this can be very small amounts. The amount each business would pay would be clearly stated in the business plan, which would also contain the projects the BID would pay for and how much each project would cost. Performance indicators are built in to make sure businesses get what they pay for and the BID is making a difference. Elected business representatives would form a company and be accountable for performance.  

Appearance (including roads) and security are concerns 

The view was expressed that not enough had been done to repair sub-standard road conditions and that repairs should be more frequent. This created a poor first impression. A strong view was expressed that, in some ways, Manor Royal was still in the dark ages and that security for some was a constant threat. This was noted and agreed that more needed to be done. Some investment in roads had been achieved, Manor Royal Business Watch was now in place (and free to join) and a programme of highways works had been identified.  

Why did we need PfBB? 

The Manor Royal Businesss Group (MRBG) had already undertaken a lot of work, delivered some improvements and developed a business plan. However, creating a BID was a significant and serious undertaking that the MRBG felt it needed expert help with to make sure it got it right for Manor Royal – hence Partnerships for Better Business (PfBB) were selected after a competitive process. PfBB are not here to run the BID - that is the job of the businesses to do. PfBB are here to validate what the MRBG think needs to be done and to engage with businesses to find out what the interest among businesses is for a BID. If the right things are in the plan and the businesses want a BID then PfBB will be retained to make sure the BID is set up properly, at which point it’s down to the businesses to run it.

Will the BID be driven by the interests of the big companies? 

Agreement to proceed with a BID is done by vote - one vote for each ratepayer. The ratepayer is asked to vote “yes” or “no” for a BID based on what is contained in the business plan. The vote is subject to two counts; one based on the number of votes regardless of company size, the other taking account of the rateable value. Both have to achieve over 50% for the BID to be agreed at which point everyone in the defined area is liable to pay the levy. In this way the vote is organised in such a way that everyone, big and small, who is expected to pay has to want to. The important thing right now is to make sure the right things (projects, additional services and improvements) are in the plan. 

Based on turnouts in other BID areas only about 50% bother to vote 

Successful BIDS can carry as much as 75% approval rate, sometimes more, but with only 50% of people voting this creates a situation where 35% of the total (roughly) carry the vote. The point was made that this was why it was important that everyone takes the time to get involved, say what they think, say what they want in the business plan and vote. Every effort will be made in Manor Royal to make sure everyone is informed about what is happening and everyone expected to pay the levy will get a voting slip. What they do with it is up to them. We want them to vote.  

It would be useful to hear from businesses from other BID areas 

A good idea. We wanted to do that for the “make your BID” event. We could still do it for a future event. 

Businesses need to know how much and what they will get back 

This is critical without this it is impossible to judge value. All this will be in the business plan. The first step is to make sure what is in the draft plan is right. A survey will soon be sent to everyone. It is important that this is completed and returned so that the BID delivers the right things. Members of PfBB will also be contacting as many businesses as possible to discuss the BID. Please respond positively to calls from Ian Ferguson, Chris Hollins or other members of the PfBB or MRBG teams.  

Why is this opportunity described as a “one off”? 

BIDs have been shown to make big differences to businesses and business parks in other parts of the country. However, they take a lot of effort to get going. The Council has made a sum of money available to support the MRBG and provide the Business District Manager but this is time-limited. If the businesses do not respond positively the money will run out and Manor Royal is unlikely to attract similar funds to meet set up costs if the businesses have rejected the idea. Current funds run out in April 2013 after that, without any other funding, Manor Royal will revert back to where it was and the issues identified are unlikely to be solved.

The Council can’t do it 

The Council is being supportive of the MRBG. It is not dictating that a BID should be set up. It can’t because it will come down to the decision of the businesses. The reality is the Council is not in a position to make the kinds of changes the businesses need and ask for. Most of the business rates collected are redistributed by Central Government to other more “needy” places and the changes being proposed e.g. local retention of business rates will actually result in the Council receiving less funding as the Government imposes certain caps. The Council can provide a certain level of service e.g. in terms of grass cutting but beyond that the scope is limited and becoming increasingly difficult.

A good opportunity 

A view was expressed that this was a good opportunity and should be taken very seriously. The MRBG is made up of good business reps, has a good chair, the support of the Council and has secured expert advisers. If Manor Royal can come together in the ways described (through a BID) it will have significant influence. Businesses should consider their options wisely as a BID might be the best way forward.

Your involvement is important 

Trevor Williams, MRBG Chair, urged businesses to get involved. Without that involvement businesses may not get what they want from the BID or else the BID will be dictated by others who do take the time to get involved.

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