Business improvement districts (BIDs) face a growing backlash

Despite being independently run, all commercial premises in areas with business improvement districts (BIDs) are legally required by their councils to pay a levy. The funds are used to back projects BID directors believe will boost business in the area.

However, Wilson Rea, owner of a KeyStore in Lanark, Lanarkshire, warned funds are often used for services that councils previously provided. “My appeal was overruled by the Scottish government, so I will have no choice but to pay £350 a year. I don’t understand why I should be paying to help improve the signage in Lanark when I already pay business rates for the same thing.”

He advised shop owners to challenge how the money is spent. “We were told Lanark would receive £1m in funding, but they didn’t explain this would be spread across five years, or that it would include a BID manager’s salary, office rent and further operating costs,” he said. 

In other areas, resistance to business improvement districts is ongoing. A councillor and business owner from Andover, Hampshire, appeared in court this month to challenge an ‘undemocratic’ BID established when the local council was allowed to vote on the formation of the business group. 

In Hexham, Northumberland, business owner Alexander Gair successfully campaigned to scrap his local BID last August after claiming it was unfair to businesses. Ian Hunter, owner of two independent shops in Hexham, had been forced to pay a levy of £600. “I was ripped off by my BID,” he said. “I’ve yet to see a penny back and it’s been a year.”

However, Weymouth BID board director and convenience retailer Steve Bassett argued that BIDs help independents survive against multiples. “By driving footfall to stores, we stop bigger companies steamrolling through,” he said. “We have invested in events that bring people to the area, which really helps drive traffic.”

However, Bassett admitted measuring the benefits to businesses can be difficult: “It’s hard to measure footfall. Anyone can make individual changes, but joining forces means real change.”

Read more: Earlier this year, Clive Betts MP said wide reforms were needed to save town centre shops.