Written by Andrew Sheldon, Research and Development Executive, CMS.
I was on Facebook this afternoon and this photo flashed up as a suggested memory to post to my wall from 10 years ago today.
This was me giving a presentation to leaders from local community groups on what was an innovative CSR project designed to connect volunteers in local businesses to volunteering opportunities close to where they work.…sorry but look at that hair. I was so Rock n’ Roll! At the time, I was working for Better Bankside who took me on a placement from the Step Enterprise Student Innovation in Business program for the summer and it was fantastic. Within weeks of starting the placement I was sold on BIDs and the positive difference they can make to a place. I thought they were a genius idea that should be rolled out everywhere. Immediately! I remember thinking that one day, unless someone beat me to it I was going to set up a BID in my own regional centre, the lovely Southend-on-Sea.
After finishing my studies and a long spell working in politics in Westminster, I returned to the BID industry in January. I now work for CMS in Research and Development, really getting under the skin of places to determine what they need to realise their potential.
Seeing that memory on Facebook today made me think just how much the industry has changed and matured in the past decade (a bit like me…but I am still Rock n’ Roll obviously).
The first and most obvious change is the massive expansion of the industry. Back then there were about 60 BIDs operating or in development in the UK. Now we are pushing 280 and BIDs are not just being set up in conurbations or international tourist hotspots but in towns and local and regional centres all over the UK.
Back in that heady summer of 2007, the DCLG released a study called “The Development and Implementation of Business Improvement Districts”. It is a short but fascinating snapshot about the potential of BIDs and the concerns that might hamper the further germination of the fledgling BID industry. These days you can access it on the National Archive Website. One concern the report highlighted was the lack of funding for BID development and how this could constrain the industry in the future. At the time developing BIDs were heavily reliant on local authorities and regional development agencies to reach into their pockets to cover the costs. Six years and a Mary Portas review later, the coalition government addressed this head on with the establishment of the highly successful ‘BID Loan Fund’. As well as helping to fuel the expansion of BID numbers, the loan fund has also made it far easier for BIDs development to be initiated by local business groups rather than local authorities. The report also said that awareness of what BIDs would also be a restraining factor, but that as more and more BIDs are established this would diminish. This has certainly proven true and the increasing pace of BID proliferation has proven that snowball is now definitely rolling at speed. It is not just local authorities, business groups and politicians who understand, or at least have heard of BIDs. Now if you walk into most high streets and speak to the local managers of chain stores and restaurants, chances are a fair number have heard about BIDs or have previously worked somewhere with one.
The second thing I noticed was that the range of services BIDs offered had become more strategic and more specially tailored to the needs of the place. The first 30 BIDs were in areas that suited a wide range of services and so were excellent testing grounds and showcases for them. As BIDs began to be set up in a wider range of areas, the range and scale of problems they sought to tackle also began to expand. Thankfully BIDs have proven to be a very flexible. In 2007, I remember being concerned that people would think of BIDs as providing a set range of services and nothing else, that BIDs would become thought of as a ‘one size fits all’ product. A decade later I am pleased that it hasn’t become the case and that a number of BIDs have been set up to address just one or two problems and have set their levy requirements accordingly. As BIDs are considered for more and more areas, a tailored approach to BID services, truly reflective of the place, that isn’t afraid to push service boundaries, and to tackle new and individualised challenges, is going to become increasingly important.
Of course, I could go on for pages and pages about the last decade’s worth of change I have noticed, but as a returner to the industry these two things hit me first and I was very happy and relieved to see both of them.
Every place is different and the BID industry is increasingly adopting more specialised and innovative service ranges to realise the potential of more and more places, which is fantastic to see.
So just to contrast, this is me today. I like to think that just like the BID industry I am capable of taking on a wider range of challenges, adapting better to new circumstances and grasping more opportunities. Whether or not just like the BID industry I have expanded in size a great deal I will leave up to you to determine…
By the way, unfortunately for me I was beaten to it and Southend-on-Sea already have a successful BID. However, I am pleased that working for CMS I am able to support them as they help realise the potential of my own local town centre.