THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: Power can be in hands of Newport businesses
TONIGHT a meeting takes place in Newport, the outcome of which will decide the future of the city centre.
Firms based in the city centre have been invited to the Newport Centre tonight to hear the Chamber of Trade outline plans for the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID).
A Newport BID is long overdue in my opinion.
Indeed – and hopefully I am not breaking any confidences here – I have been lobbying the city council and Newport Unlimited on the subject since late 2011, and talking to the Chamber of Trade for a number of months, because I know from personal experience the positive impact a BID can have.
A BID – if it has the backing from businesses – has the potential to transform the city centre.
There are more many BIDs already in operation across the UK, including a particularly successful one in Swansea.
Representatives from the Swansea BID will be at tonight’s meeting to talk about their experiences.
The basic premise of a BID is simple – businesses pick the projects they believe are vital to improving the area in which they are based and pay for them via a small levy.
The levy is based on the rateable value of the business, so big firms will pay the most and the smallest will be exempt. Everyone in the BID area, however, benefits from the projects it finances no matter the level of their contribution.
But a BID, which is a limited company that serves five-year terms, is not just imposed on businesses.
For a BID to be set up, firms in the area it would serve must vote for it in a referendum.
A simple majority of ‘yes’ votes sees a BID start operations and the levy then becomes obligatory for all businesses in the area.
There is an incentive, therefore, for all businesses in the BID area to take part in the vote.
Most importantly, a BID has to be driven by the private sector. It is not a council project, although councils would normally be expected to provide expertise and some finance in the initial stages – particularly in terms of research and organising the referendum.
But a BID only works if local businesses want it to. The power is in their hands.
I have been asked to speak at tonight’s meeting to share my experiences of helping to set up a BID in Worcester in 2010, when I was editor of that city’s daily newspaper.
I’ve seen for myself the hugely positive contribution a BID can make to an area.
In Worcester, for instance, the BID has paid for street rangers, taxi marshals, new Christmas lights, and a whole variety of other projects that local businesses themselves decided were vital to their future prosperity.
We hear little but negativity about Newport city centre, and there is no doubt that it is struggling as a retail and business base.
Setting up a BID would be a real opportunity to get some positivity back into the city centre.
It isn’t a magic wand and it won’t happen overnight. It will probably take a minimum of two years to get a BID off the ground.
But it is better than doing nothing, and it gives our struggling city centre traders a chance to have a real say in their futures.
If businesses indicate they want a Newport BID, the Argus will support it all the way.
● If you run a city centre business and you want to know more about BIDs, make sure you go to tonight’s meeting. It starts at 6pm in the Castle Room at the Newport Centre.