Urban renewal and economic regeneration are essential for London to continue to prosper and thrive. Yet, in the current climate of restricted local council budgets, it has become increasingly difficult for the public sector alone to deliver services to meet these goals. To help fill this gap, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been spiralling in number as a way to provide business-led responses to the needs of areas in towns and cities.
Originating in North America in the 1960s, BIDs were aimed to halt the decline of commercial areas in town centres. The concept has grown in popularity across the globe, with the first one established in the UK in 2005. There are now 200 around the country.
Table taken from The Evolution of London Business Improvement Districts
So what is a BID and what do they do? A BID is a defined area, bringing together representatives of local authorities and local businesses, who all have a vested interest in generating local growth. BIDs make the most of local area knowledge, and businesses pay a levy which is used to invest in the local area. Projects can range from providing street furniture, street cleaning and security to strategic plans for the long term.
BIDs are established for a variety of reasons. Some have been set up to tackle manifestations of areas in decline, such as in Swansea where the BID set out to boost the local economy. Others have been established in prosperous areas where there is a need to tackle issues associated with growth, for example the South Bank BID which is a hot-spot for tourists and locals alike.
In 2015, the Cheapside BID was established in City of London. This year London passed a milestone- there are now 50 BIDs in the capital. BIDs have been endorsed by the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and have been included in the Mayor’s Economic Development Strategy and the London Plan, highlighting how important they are becoming as a way for businesses to work collectively.
Map showing the Cheapside BID area
A recent report published in March 2016 by Future of London and Rocket Science for the GLA and London Enterprise on the Evolution of London’s BIDs highlighted the growing number of BIDs, noting that they have become ‘integral to the liveability’ of London. Because levies are set for 5 years, they provide a sustainable income stream. Altogether, London’s BIDs bring in approximately £24.9 million each year through levies and £5.5 million through additional income.
The report makes a series of recommendations for the main actors involved in London’s BIDs. For instance, the report recommends that the GLA continues to provide financial and non-financial resources and promote the support available to BIDs via the creation of a handbook. For boroughs, the report proposed that regular forums are established for BIDS to discuss shared interests. For BIDs themselves, it is recommended that they engage with boroughs regularly, and share best practices with other BIDs.
The most important recommendation, in my opinion, was that of a comprehensive, London-wide set of indicators. At the moment, BIDs measure an increase in footfall or employment changes as a measure of their impact, but there is no consistent measure. Considering the vast growth of BIDs in London and indeed across the UK in the past decade, the report argues that there is an opportunity to create a user-friendly impact assessment toolkit. The report stresses the need to encourage consistent data-gathering from the beginning of a BIDs lifecycle. By doing this, we can further strengthen BIDs as a collective voice for London businesses.