It's an interesting time in the town of Penzance, the Neighbourhood Plan process is being launched and has a great new website here and business in the town centre are going to vote on becoming a Business Improvement District (BID). It's easy to assume that people know what a BID is, it's been well publicised in the local press and a consultation has taken place with the businesses in the area. However there are a lot of people that are not aware this is going on and they really should, because it's an important development in the town and although I have a number of reservations about the structure and process, I think it could be a very good thing for Penzance.
As a short description a BID imposes a levy on business (2% on top of rates in our case). It then takes that money and uses it for the good of the area and specifically the businesses in it. There's a lot more information on the process in Penzance and the plans on the BID website here. There are some really interesting ideas for the town and how to improve it in the plan. The process is coming to the end and after consultation sessions, it has now come to the vote. The rules for the vote are quite simple businesses are asked whether they support a Business Improvement District yes or no. Then if there are more than 50% indicating yes and of those they represent more than 50% of the rateable value of all votes cast. Then it comes into being on the first of June.
On the one hand I think this is a very good thing, if passed the BID will run for five years and have a total budget of £800,00 for that period. That is a lot of money and it will mark one of the most major investments in the town centre for a long long time. It also represents a great opportunity for businesses to come together and work towards solutions, which should have benefits wider than the BID itself.
On the other hand the whole of the BID set up, is part of a growing and in my opinion (and that of MK) a worrying trend in public spending in recent years. The BID is a not for profit company, much like Local Enterprise Partnerships and NHS Trusts, they are not democratically elected by the people, they are not accountable to the people. I write this with some caution I know a few of the members of the BID steering group and I don't mean this as a personal reflection on them or their motives or judgement. However it is a worrying trend to removing democratically representatives from the decision making and spending process.
As with all votes, I hope there is good turn out for the BID's postal ballots. I hope that all of the businesses in the proposed area take a great deal of time to consider the merits of the BID process and the business plan that has been written. There is great potential with that amount of money but there is also a great cost, it might only be 2% of rates on top but nevertheless it is another cost. We live in interesting times!
N.B The Penzance Town Council has no part of the BID process, the BID Steering Group choose not to have a town council representative.