The BID Foundation Spring Conference, Southwark Cathedral, 30 April 2019

It is perhaps inevitable that the key message from a BIDs conference is that BIDs should all collaborate more. The BID Foundation’s Spring Conference at Southwark Cathedral was different in a few key ways and the take home messages more agenda-setting for BIDs across the UK. 

Chris Murray, Director of Core Cities and Dr Steve Millington from IPM put forward a convincing argument in favour of greater regional collaboration leading to economic prosperity. Where BIDs sometimes tend towards the view that market share is finite and we must all compete to harness it for our own districts, examples like Amsterdam, which has scores of BIDs operating in a collaborative network, show us the strategic benefits of the hub and spoke approach.

The publication of research into BIDs undertaken by the IPM and launched at the conference by Dr Julie Grail, Professor Gary Warnaby and Catherine Mitton of The BID Foundation shows us incontrovertibly and for the first time that BIDs need to be better integrated into broader governance structures in the UK. This problem is particularly acute in a country in the grip of devolution fever, with LEPs, City Growth Deals, City Mayors and even neighbourhood planning and Police and Crime Commissioners all entering the landscape over the last ten years. How do we feed in to conversations about the future of our places?

Devolution has been messy, with a patchwork of governance structures created in different parts of the country. For example, Bristol and Manchester now deal with two mayors, one for the region and one for the city in addition to their local authorities. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but BIDs will need to understand and navigate their own structures to engineer a place at the table.

Russell Greenslade from the Swansea BID demonstrated the collaborative possibilities in Wales, with the BID helping to design rate reform, taking part in task and finish groups and directing local investment. The Scotland Towns Partnership also has a good relationship with the devolved Scottish Government. Irish BIDs can hardly be blamed for the fact that there is no one to talk to at Stormont, and this continues to prove problematic, as Jamie Hamill at Coleraine BID outlined.

In England, BIDs hold an unique position in our connection to economic centres.  Our local knowledge is vital to local authorities and, aggregated, to LEPs. It’s natural to imagine that LEPs are efficient centres of power and governance, particularly given how remote they often appear to be from the day-to-day work of BIDs. In fact, as Ojay McDonald from ATCM pointed out, LEPs have work to do to link to local economies and BIDs should be offering themselves up as a mechanism for that. In Westminster, The BID Foundation should contribute to the Government Spending Review, attend party conferences and develop national policy.

The afternoon session heard from Rachel Campbell, BIDs lead at MHCLG. Modifications to the BID model were considered, with Community Improvement Districts, which formally incorporate community representatives into BID governance a key topic for discussion. The view from the floor appeared to be that radical changes to the BID model are not desirable at this stage in the development of UK BIDs, particularly where the IPM research showed we continue to have trouble defining ourselves.

There continued to be cautious support for the property owner BID concept, despite a slow uptake in practice. NE1BID in Newcastle could be next, but changes in legislation are still needed for their creation outside London.

Much of the above agenda is now made possible with the creation of The BID Foundation, which has just published its two-year delivery programme, endorsed in many ways via discussion at the conference. As outlined by Cat Mitton, the focus for The BID Foundation will be the development of industry standards, relationship building with regional and central government and further research, including, for the first time, an enquiry into the economic impact of BIDs.