Harrogate asked to consider the opportunities of a Business Improvement District
Businesses across the Harrogate District are considering whether they would like to create a Business Improvement District (BID) to see the changes they want in the town.
A BID is an organisation where businesses within a given area pay into a shared pot to fund changes and improvements that will benefit their business and make them more competitive.
A BID can be as small as just several business or encompass a city centre, and can be specifically focused on whatever those who create it decide.
Over 80 members and guests attended the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss the potential of a BID, at the Old Swan Hotel on Monday January 9.
It was one of the most well attended Chamber meetings in recent months, as councillors joined property and business owners to hear from experts on the subject.
John Bywater, Chairman of Leeds BID at the time of its launch in 2015 and member on a number of business and property boards, opened the discussion.
Mr Bywater said: "Leeds is pushing very hard, it's got great retail, it's got lots and lots of office development it's going to clean up the station it's going to make itself a really great place to be, do not let Harrogate become one of these soulless dammed commuter locations away from the main area."
BIDs work by determining an area to cover, and then deciding a threshold business rate, to act as a baseline for deciding which businesses in that area would have to pay in.
The amount charged to each business would be a percentage of the business rate that they pay to the council, and that would be decided by the businesses who set up the BID.
Mr Bywater said: "Your business rates do not go towards anything that happens in Harrogate, your business rates go to the Prime Minister in London, and it's no use then turning around to the council and saying why don't you spend some money on some things that we as a business community want, because the council haven't got the money and if they did have the money they would have to spend it on social welfare.
"If you want to take control you are going to have to find a way of taking control, raising enough money to spend it in the way that you as a business community want, it's your money and it's your voice and it's nothing to do with the council."
BIDs have been running across the world for a number of years but the first in the UK was created in 2004, since when more than 200 others have been set up.
However a BID can only be implemented if the majority of businesses, both in number and their rateable value, vote it in.
Mike Procter, Harrogate District Chamber Vice President and the organiser of the meeting, said: "Chamber is very happy to lead on facilitating a BID if one were to come about but we don't want to own it in any way, it would be owned by those businesses who are interested in giving direction to it and creating it.
"A BID is owned by the businesses for the businesses, it's not like having the council go through the process of consultation and then imposing something upon businesses, it's not like an outside agency deciding that they want to do something, there's a consultation process but actually the general form of direction is already decided."
Also speaking at the event, current CEO of Leeds BID, Andrew Cooper stressed a BID should have an operating agreement with the council to ensure the council continued to fund current services.
Mr Bywater, reinforced the issue and talked about the position Leeds BID had taken with the council when it was set up.
He said: "In the Leeds BID the council had to sign a quite comprehensive document confirming that all their current responsibilities would continue and that was signed sealed and delievered so there was no question at all and that was a big question by the Leeds businesses."
However Mr Procter reassured that a BID in Harrogate would not see a transfer of services funded by the council to being funded by the business community.
He said: "This is going to be something which is given direction and form by the businesses that are interested in it, the council also does an awful lot of stuff for businesses, one of its core strategies is to encourage new businesses into Harrogate and they have a very good economic development unit that helps facilitate that.
"Nothing that they do we are looking to transfer across to be funded by a BID, those things will still be done by the council, they have statutory obligations, but this is going to be in addition to and extra and it is whatever businesses want.
"No doubt the council will pull certain things that are currently being provided because they have reduced funds and we like every other sector that they service will find costs cut accordingly, so we may find that when things are taken away we decide we want to plug that gap.
"But it will only be because it has been taken away and there's no other alternative it will not be transferred from A to B."
Mr Procter also said that working on behalf of the district, the Chamber would support business communities in other towns such as Ripon and Knaresborough to set up a BID.
He said: “Chamber will also work alongside members in other towns in the Harrogate District to the same purpose, in due course.”
Now the Chamber are asking businesses and interested parties to share their views and tell them what they would like to see in terms of a BID for the district. Email [email protected] with your views.