Colchester BID Campaign Launches with Bold Claims

The Colchester Business Improvement District ballot opens next month with the aim of helping to promote local businesses in the town centre.

Some big hitters are involved:

Carl Milton, MD Fenwicks,

David Robertson, Shopping Centre Manager Culver Square and

Peter Scopes, Shopping Centre Manager Lion Walk.

A Business Improvement District is basically an extra tax on local businesses. The revenue is then used to promote the aims of the BID.

In the case of Colchester this is to try and keep the town centre alive.

Key point: Colchester town centre is not dying; it is changing.

The glossy brochure [pdf] that has been put out trades under the name of ‘Our Colchester.’

Whose streets?

OUR streets, as we use to say back in the day.

On closer inspection you can see that Our / Their Colchester is the Colchester Presents Community Interest Company.

There are some well known local names propping this up.

The BID is asking 491 local businesses that cover the footprint to cough up an extra levy for the five year duration of the BID.

This applies to businesses with a rateable value of £14,999 or more per year. A figure of 1.2% of the rateable value will charged.

From 2019 the levy rate will be increased by the fixed rate of inflation of 2% per annum.

If you don’t pay then you are likely to be prosecuted for non-payment.

Some bold claims have been made in the campaign literature:

“Businesses decide and direct what they want for the area.”

…as long as CBC is in agreement.

The BID also claims:

“Improved marketing and communication means that Colchester will need to live up to the marketing hype.”

What marketing hype?

What came first – the BID or the marketing hype?

There is some confusion over the aims of the proposed BID: is it to improve business, or is it to try and shift some of the social problems in the town centre elsewhere?

Or perhaps both of these aims are one of the same?

The document adds:

“Support initiatives to tackle rough sleeping, drinking and aggressive begging.”

Tarting up empty units is another proposal with a call for:

“Shop front hoardings showcasing local artists.”

This is a decent initiative. It would be even better if the BID could work out why the units remain empty.

Byron Burgers – we’re looking at you.

There are some useful ideas in the document:

“Cleaner and greener environment to create a more welcoming town

Active support for tourism activities and promotions

Co-ordinating and promoting a full calendar of events for the whole year

An improved streetscape

Bespoke events and marketing to showcase heritage

Increased promotion of the art and culture in Colchester.”

These are initiatives that needn’t be delivered – or funded – by a tax on local businesses. We can’t but help think that the BID document has a hidden agenda of: why has CBC been so crap in promoting the town?

Plus:

“The BID will build a town centre focused website and will work with Visit Colchester and other local organisations to create a strong and co-ordinated multi-channel marketing offer.”

Anyone else remember the costly Colchester app that CBC outsourced? It didn’t quite work out when the key word ‘Colchester’ was left out of the app name.

Maybe this is why the promotion of the town centre is best left out of the hands of the CBC folk at the Town Hall.

Signage is also mentioned.

Tread carefully, Comrades.

If your extra tax is going to be spunked on yet more rusty elephants then more fool you.

The challenge in Colchester is that the layout of the town centre allows for many key assets to be hidden away.

Plus it doesn’t help that we have two train stations – the main one not actually being in the town centre.

There is a delicate balance between directing people to find the hidden treasures and dumping further street clutter along the pavements.

Elsewhere and the loyalty scheme is half decent. This appears to be aimed at office workers coming into the town centre.

Why not also include local residents?

To the credit of CBC the recent annual residents’ pass to the Castle if a great idea.

Meanwhile the Independent Business Project Fund might just be a way of getting independent businesses signed up to the BID…

As for the ‘night time economy’ [BOOZE]:

“The Council have pledged not to further consider a Late Night Levy for Colchester if a BID in the town is successful at ballot.”

Vote BID, get BID tax but not the CBC tax.

It’s a WINNER.

As with all elections, information is key.

It would be a shame if the BID campaign is one-sided with the gloss put out by the big businesses that are backing the campaign.

We all know how unhelpful binary votes can become when not all the information is made available to those voting.

Will there be an alternative campaign to discuss why a BID might not be needed?

Or maybe such a campaign isn’t actually needed?

If the BID is passed – and it will be – then it will be judged in pure financial terms.

Will the local businesses see an increase in their profits after the first, second or third year of the BID?

If not, then why bother continuing with the extra burden?

Ballot papers will be sent out to eligible businesses by 1st June 2018. The deadline to vote is 28th June.

A low turn out would be most disappointing.

The Colchester BID will begin in October 2018 – should the vote be passed.

Careful what you wish for, etc.

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