Business Improvement Districts or BIDs first began in Toronto, Canada, in the 70s. The concept quickly spread and was enthusiastically taken up by many cities around the United States, especially in areas of deprivation or where economies were struggling. BIDS became widely noted after their success in transforming Times Square and Union Square in New York City from places that were abandoned and filled with crime, into dynamic neighbourhoods.

BIDs have now been operating across the UK for over a decade and there are currently around 210 in the UK and Ireland, of which Cambridge is the fourth largest (in terms of the number of businesses).

What is a BID?

BIDs are business-led and business-funded organisations that work to improve a defined commercial area. They can be a powerful tool for directly involving businesses in local activities and they allow the business community and local authorities to work together to improve the trading environment.

Within a BID Area, a levy is charged on all business rate payers in addition to the business rates bill. This levy is used to develop projects that will directly benefit businesses in the region. BID levy money is ring-fenced for use only in the BID Area – unlike business rates which are redistributed by government.

How do BIDs help businesses?

BIDs are set up on the premise that attractive commercial districts will attract shoppers and create an environment conducive to thriving businesses. There is no limit on what projects or services can be provided through a BID; actual initiatives will vary depending on the specific needs of the town.

All projects and initiatives that are delivered are additional to the services provided by the local authority. For example, in Cambridge improvements include: cost saving projects that have saved city centre business more than £54,000 on utility bills; access to a broad range of training opportunities, from how to improve customer service to pension auto enrolment; and street cleansing services that have so far targeted 30 streets covering over 28,000 sq. mts across the BID area.

As a smaller, independent business you could discover the following benefits by working with your BID:

  • Greater influence over the decisions made about the area surrounding your business and on issues such as parking, street cleaning and public transport issues etc
  • Increased footfall, through more organised events and initiatives designed to increase trade
  • Improved staff retention, and employee satisfaction as a result of free development opportunities such as customer services training initiatives
  • Reduced business expenditure through cost-saving initiatives and bulk-purchasing
  • Targeted promotion of your area to residents and visitors
  • Facilitated networking opportunities with neighbouring businesses
  • Assistance in dealing with the Council, Police and other public bodies
BIDs are becoming increasingly popular with the UK business community. Many BIDs that have been back to their businesses to renew their mandate at the end of their first term have won their ballot to continue. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, recently said: “BIDs make an excellent contribution to our overall economy and contribute a great deal towards achieving my vision of London as the best big city on earth.”

During these times of economic challenge, BIDs are invaluable in identifying ways to reduce business costs and enhance trading conditions, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It is vital that those who rely on the city centre for their own economic prosperity are involved in their local Business Improvement District.

Your local BID will always be happy to talk to you about how being in a BID Area can benefit your business and how you can get more involved. Get in touch today.

By Ian Sandison, Chairman of Cambridge Business Improvement District