Influential business people in Farnham have joined together to try to drive through plans to introduce a Business Improvement District (BID) in the town centre.
A BID is led by the business community and all the firms inside a defined zone take part in a ballot to push through plans.
The BID working group – led by chairman Liz Flanagan, operations manager at Elphicks – will put together a business plan, based on discussions with town centre firms.
If the vote for a BID is positive, most of the businesses within the zone will pay a levy on their business rates, which will provide the funding to deliver the plan.
By law, the BID will provide additional services to those offered by parish, district and county councils.
Liz said: “BIDs have been very successful throughout the UK.
“In this difficult climate it is important for the business community to come together – and any money raised from a BID will be used to enhance our town, ensuring a good economic future for us all.
“It is important that all businesses have a say in how they would like to see Farnham develop as this enables the task group to tailor the initiatives and investments, ensuring the resources are used to benefit the entire business community.
“BIDs foster collaboration and networking among businesses within the district – building relationships, sharing best practices – and collectively address challenges by working together towards common goals.
“This collaboration can lead to a stronger and more resilient business community.
“BIDs understand a thriving retail industry depends on the presence of a vibrant office sector, and both sectors rely on the support of the hospitality industry.
“By considering the needs of all sectors and fostering collaboration, we aim to create a balanced and sustainable business environment that benefits everyone.”
Farnham Town Council already punches above its weight, hosting events throughout the year to encourage footfall. And although Waverley Borough Council is looking to make cutbacks, don’t the local authorities already do the role of a BID?
Liz said: “The BID works alongside local councils, acting as a complement rather than a substitute.
“While councils play a crucial role in providing essential services and managing the overall administration of a town, they often face financial constraints.
“The funding allows BIDs to undertake projects and initiatives that may not be feasible through council budgets alone.
“An example of this would be to have a Christmas light parade with the lights switch-on, increasing footfall and visitors from surrounding towns.
“BIDs are also generally more responsive than local councils, and can act with greater agility. They can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, respond to emerging challenges, and capitalise on new opportunities, ensuring the town remains competitive and vibrant.
“BIDs often have dedicated staff or boards of directors who possess in-depth knowledge of the local business environment. This expertise allows BIDs to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of their town and devise strategies tailored to its specific needs.”
So what will businesses pay for a BID? And will they get value for money? It is estimated the BID will collect around £340,000 a year from businesses – that’s £1.7m over the five-year term of the BID.
Liz said: “The cost to each business depends on their rateable value.
“Any business whose rates are less than £5,000 per year is exempt from the levy.
“The levy has been set at two per cent a year for a five-year period, during which we would work towards achieving specific goals and objectives outlined in our business plan.
“The long-term perspective of BIDs allows us to implement strategic initiatives which may take time to yield substantial results.
“While immediate benefits may be evident, the total value of the BID investment for local businesses may be realised over the course of the BID’s term.
“Part of the economic strategy for the town is to improve the visitor experience through more affordable parking, cycle parking, town cleanliness, recruitment fairs and combined procurement schemes, as well as managed marketing campaigns which in turn contribute to the success and profitability of the local businesses.
“The BID task group responsible for managing the funds must demonstrate the money is being used effectively and efficiently.
“This accountability ensures businesses receive value for their financial contributions and can see tangible results from the initiatives and projects undertaken by the BID.”