Why all Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are bad

I had an email this morning that raised some important criticisms of this news blog. Here is an edited extract and my response.

You have a section explaining what is wrong with BIDs but it doesn’t give any evidence it states a simple “fact” that BIDs take away power from community groups and is unfair on smaller businesses but cites no examples or reasoning why. As far as I’m aware BIDs take a proportionate representation based on the businesses in the area, board members are taken on board depending on which businesses they represent. This to me represents a greater involvement of the whole of the business community engaging with parts which may have just been content to go their own way in the past.

I hope a critical look at Business Improvement Districts is just that and doesn’t turn into tarring all BIDs with the same negative brush. While some bad BIDs inevitably exist, as do bad police forces, bad hospitals and bad schools, there are those which benefit the businesses putting money into them as well as the communities who coexist with them.

I responded:

Thanks for getting in touch. Are you from the UK or the USA?

First the reason for this news blog. It’s meant to address what I and some others see as a lack of critical coverage of BIDs. There are many websites produced by BIDs and news coverage that is uncritical.  I live and work in an area of central London that has three BIDs on its doorstep. My view of BIDs is coloured by this experience and I wanted to engage with others who may feel the same. So the site is an attempt to re-dress the balance, rather than cover possible advantages of BIDs because there is already enough positive coverage.

Not sure where you are from. BID rules in the USA are different to here in the UK. Here in the UK only those businesses liable to pay the BID levy have to be consulted. Land owners do not have to pay the BID levy (though they often make voluntary contributions). There is no obligation for residents to be consulted. For example, in central London Inholborn aka InMidtown BID. Earlier this year there was a ballot of all those businesses with a rateable value over £40k in the proposed BID area. The local authority London Borough of Camden allowed advertising banners to be put up promoting a “yes” vote to the BID. No small businesses were consulted and no residents were consulted. Under BID rules there was no obligation to consult outside of those who would pay the levy. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fitzrovianews/4875255180/

This is a structural problem with BIDs. In other words, it affects all BIDs. There is a huge democratic deficit.

As regards membership of BIDs, board membership where real power lies is restricted to those organisations who will have to pay maybe £10,000 to the BID. Ordinary membership can be as little as £200 but this buys little political power within a BID. These rules are made up by individual BIDs within the framework of the Local Government Act 2003. So again, it is a structural problem that affects all BIDs. Big business dominates.

So, in my view, this makes all BIDs bad for the reason that they are undemocratic and there is no public consultation. That’s what happens in the UK. Not sure about the USA or elsewhere. I hope that answers your questions.

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About no2bids

A critical look at Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, and worldwide. Public and private space.
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