Covid presents two challenges to Business Improvement Districts. One is to deliver practical assistance to levy-payers to maximise their ‘bounce back’ from lockdown. The other, put brutally, is to protect them from insolvency.
Covid is an existential threat for retailers and licensed premises. BIDs that simply do what they have always done – but perhaps more so – won’t be doing enough to protect their levy-payers from catastrophe and, ultimately, to protect themselves either.
Covid is accelerating major long-term trends (out of town retailing, multiple-isation, online retailing to name a few) which have been slowly impacting the UK’s high streets for many years. Already, within just a few months of Covid coming to town, we have seen many retail and hospitality sector casualties. There will be many more, large and small, in the months ahead.
If it’s tough for retailers, the night-time economy has been hit even harder. The previously resilient hospitality sector is only now seeing restaurants pubs and attractions re-opening; theatres and cinemas will be slower to revive, and clubs remain closed at the time of writing. ‘Revival’ is perhaps too optimistic word: obligatory social distancing and some customers’ reticence to return to crowded places means businesses like these will be looking more to survive than to revive in the months – perhaps even years – ahead.
BIDs that continue to focus primarily on ‘place marketing’ –maximise visitor numbers and footfall in their areas – will need to do much, much more than that. Their new emphasis must be on initiatives that deliver real, demonstrable cost-reductions for their levy-payers. If they don’t then it won’t only be many of their levy-payers that go to the wall in the next few years – so too will many BIDs.
First and foremost, among such initiatives are daytime and night-time exclusion schemes.
Research from the University of Gloucestershire shows that local exclusion schemes deliver demonstrable reductions in low-level crime and ASB for their participants. In practice, that means reducing shoplifting for local retailers and keeping troublemakers out of pubs, bars and clubs.
Reducing shoplifting and bringing more people into town at night means protecting levy-payers’ profitability – and enhancing the BID’s own prospects when it comes time to re-ballot.
Of the 350 BIDs in the UK, 250 cover towns or city-centres, where retailers and the hospitality industry constitute the largest proportion of levy-payers. Yet a third of these don’t include a ‘safer secure’ commitment in their Business Plans. Of those that do, too few offer more than on-street ‘Welcome’ teams, regular meetings with local police and advice on CCTV camera placing. And of these, only one in three manage exclusion schemes on behalf of their retailers and hospitality sectors.
Now must be the time when BIDs put exclusion schemes right to the top of their priorities. And happily, it has never been easier – and quicker – to set up and manage efficient, effective and compliant schemes.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 allows BIDs previously due to re-ballot in the period to March 2021 to extend their terms for a further 12 months. And the government has made an ex gratia grant of £6.1m specifically to help BIDs through this challenging period. Taken together, these initiatives provide more than enough breathing space, and funding, for every town and city-centre BID to get on with it.
If you’re a BID that wants to explore the benefits and the practicalities of setting up retail and night-time banning schemes for your levy-payers, find out more and contact us now.