The Evolution of London’s Business Improvement Districts
10 March 2016
Like many of the systems and services Londoners take for granted, Business Improvement Districts have become integral to this complex city. Quantitative economic impact is still difficult to assess, but move from a high street managed by a solid BID to one without that support, and the difference is marked. What’s starting to happen behind the scenes has even more potential – for BID members, the communities they serve and the boroughs that host them, as well as for London’s competitive edge in international destination rankings.
As an industry, London’s Business Improvement Districts are still emerging. Some are agents of growth and influence, while others may have to prove their value to members to survive business rates reform. It is a staggered field in which leading BIDs, trade bodies, partnerships and the Greater London Authority and London Enterprise Panel are working to bring along the whole – and there is potential to do much more.
This report charts that path. Commissioned by the GLA and LEP as London approached the Mayor’s target of 50 BIDs – a quarter of the UK total – the research assesses the impact and potential of London BIDs in a fast-changing municipal environment. The findings build on existing data, and back that up with front-line experience as a basis for practical short- and longer-term recommendations.
With a focus on high street and town centre BIDs (industrial BIDs are being researched separately), this report covers the current state of BIDs in London; support, impact and collaboration to date; funding, planning and other threats; and opportunities for new services, partnerships and influence.
In particular, the research highlights the growing number of London BIDs with a significant effect on – and beyond – their areas, bringing in vital investment and forging useful partnerships with the public and voluntary sectors, as well as with other BIDs. In addition to their traditional ‘bins, branding and baskets’ remit, BIDS are now directly involved in regeneration, place-making, air quality and employment initiatives.
Given the context of London’s growing population and councils’ shrinking budgets, the recent Department for Communities and Local Government consultation on BIDS has also opened the door to far more participation in council service delivery.
That opportunity and the 50-BID milestone make this a fitting time to shift gears. BIDs offer a five-year revenue stream, flexibility, government support and lobbying muscle, local expertise and a focus on results. This gives them a unique ability to innovate and make tangible improvements at a time when local government is struggling to deliver basic services.
There are challenges, of course. BIDs must serve their business members first. Higher business rates and additional levies could sap member willingness to renew BID mandates. BIDs are not keen to become default council delivery bodies, and conversely, some councils and voters may baulk at transferring control to the private sector.
All of this leads to BIDs’ need to be increasingly professional and accountable for their actions, reporting clearly not only to levy-paying members, but to a wider public. BIDs, boroughs and other tiers of government also have to navigate changing relationships – political, contractual and operational.
Many of these factors will be tipping points for existing BIDs. There are still areas of the capital that could really benefit from a viable BID, but this is also a good moment to weigh up the balance between support for creating new BIDs and nurturing the health, best practice and potential of existing BIDs.
As funding becomes increasingly competitive, BIDs must work together – and with councils and other partners – to secure their status as credible, integrated partners for the long term. It will take all parties to drive the whole industry forward, but the potential for London is enormous, and the time to act is now.