The right place to start is by declaring an interest; I am a Board member of the company that encourages Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) in Scotland and as such am highly supportive of BIDS as an activity. So my comments below on the inaugural BIDs Scotland Summit should be read in that light.
Held in Glasgow this morning, the Summit brought together many of those involved in, and interested in, BIDs in Scotland to listen to key speakers and to network and share information and experiences. From Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism (which makes him a MEET not a NEET), Ian Davison Porter (Director, Business Improvements Districts Scotland) and Joe D’Alessandro (President & Chief Executive, San Francisco Travel), amongst others , the issues, practices and possibilities of Business Improvement Districts were debated, discussed and challenged.
With the current economic and political landscapes and finance going to be tight for some time, new ways of thinking and maximising effectiveness have to be generated. BIDs provide a public-private partnership model, adding investment and energising and involving local businesses in promoting and improving their locations. The BID is not an entity, but a piece of legislation enabling a sustainable financial model. BIDs can cover town centres and high streets, but could also be sector (tourism as in San Francisco, which generates c$12m additional revenue per annum via its Tourism Improvement District) or indeed almost any other entity, based.
In Scotland we have 10 functioning BIDs covering over 3.5k businesses, with another 15 or so in development covering another 12k businesses. They are spread across the country. Sales and footfall increases are the bedrock of BIDs initially, but they must also add value through being innovative, creative and adventurous. BIDs have to change things for their funders and their lcoations. Centrally, BIDs Scotland is moving into assisting with procurement and other project based activities, working to the mantra of providing more for business on a local level through working together nationally (as with waste management, energy generation, access improvements).
The BID has to be an addition to the local authority and other investment in locations; it can not be a replacement. It has to be a partnership, though presenters argued that taking issues out of the political arena through the BID making decisions and acting as an advocate for businesses and customers and not as an apologist for the local authority, was a good way forward. Key themes were the need to be sales and marketing focused (and acting at high-speed as these subjects demand), sustainable and future-looking based on a firm planning foundation, a partner of government and not a department, entrepreneurial, leadership enabling, and focused on improving life for the businesses that fund BIDs (not least because of the need for a ballot for renewal, as recently won in Falkirk).
In the new climate in Scotland and with place-based policy coming to the fore, BIDs are one element in revitalising and re-energising Scotland. Maybe there’ll be one coming to a town, city or even golf course/distillery near you, soon.
Update 22nd June 2011: Presentations from the day are now available here.