BID: nice idea, little progress
The Dartmouth Business Improvement District must focus on promises outlined in its five-year business plan if it is to have a successful future, it has been claimed.
Paul Reach, chairman of the Dartmouth Business Forum, said it appeared that businesses that took part in a recent survey are ‘not really happy’ with the way the BID is moving forward.
He thinks there is still support for the BID idea, but less support for the progress made by the BID board.
He believes the tasks ahead should be to market the town externally as a tourist destination and business location and to market Dartmouth BID Ltd to levy payers as delivering benefits.
But he feels these do not necessarily mean local promotions, such as loyalty cards and seagull control, and that the BID must be careful not to stray into areas outside its remit by providing services that should be carried out by South Hams Council or the county council.
Mr Reach was speaking last Thursday at a business forum meeting, where he presented the findings of a questionnaire on the BID’s first-year performance. Half of those who took part said the BID was a positive step.
Mr Reach, who started the BID, and who has been invited to be an associate member on the board of directors, without voting powers, said: ‘I feel a heavy responsibility for how it’s going.’
He said the survey had been sent to 450 addresses on the business information list.
‘I feel it’s important to get a snapshot of where people are now, one a half years into the BID,’ he said.
Of the 66 respondents, 54 of which were BID levy payers, some 50 per cent felt the
BID was a good thing for Dartmouth; nearly 20 per cent were not sure; and 30 per cent – 20 votes – were against it. Mr Reach said the figures were roughly similar to the way the vote for the BID went in 2013.
‘It’s only a small survey and not a massive sample, but enough to give an indication,’ he said.
Most people understood what a BID was, although around 21 per cent said they only vaguely understood, with 25 per cent saying they did not know there was a five-year business plan.
‘This is poor communication by the BID,’ said Mr Reach. ‘Until recently it wasn’t even on their website, so no one could see what the plans are. It’s been replaced with a 2015 budget.’
Mr Reach said he accepted that it was early days, but it was important that businesses felt confident the BID was moving in the right direction.
‘This is your company, you are shareholders – you have the right to ask questions,’ he told the meeting.
Only three per cent of people in the survey felt the BID had delivered the business plan very well and 40 per cent said communication with levy payers had been very poor. Figures showed that marketing and parking were areas people would like most investment and savings on business support costs featured fairly highly.
More than 30 per cent of respondents felt there was a poor cross section of representatives on the board, yet almost 80 per cent said they would not be willing to take on the role.
Most people were ‘neutral’ on press reporting about the BID; Mr Reach said he believed very strongly in transparency and would like to see better communication by the board.
There was strong support for the BID to be working towards attracting more visitors outside the main tourist season and making the experience more enjoyable, as well as encouraging new businesses to locate to Dartmouth.
Mr Reach said he feared the BID company website had been ‘crafted in confusion’ with the tourist information centre website.
He said it was presently ‘uninteresting and bland’ and showed very little investment of time. It did not engage with BID supporters and there was no first-year accounts or chairman’s report, he explained.
In addition, he claimed the Dartmouth Every Time brand had been ‘diluted’ and did not, for example, appear on the ‘shop local’ cards funded by the BID.
‘If they can’t market themselves, how can they market the town?’ he said.
Mr Reach said it appeared that increased market awareness through national advertising had been cancelled and he questioned what had happened to the digital marketing?
‘After the branding exercise and the railway poster campaign in the first year, I’ve seen very little evidence of other Chaos [marketing] proposals being acted upon,’ he said. ‘After spending £26,000 on brand development, £37,000 on a media campaign [railway posters] and £22,000 on website development, including photography, I believe this spend will be wasted if we don’t see through the national awareness campaign aimed at low season.
‘Shop local, seagull control and security were not requested during the consultation, so why are we occupying the BID managers’ time on these projects?’
He said there was only 70-75 per cent average to very poor support for the progress made by the BID board, but he believed there was still support for the BID concept itself. He added that swinging the ‘not sure’ votes could turn support into a good 70 per cent majority.
But he reaffirmed that the BID’s five-year business plan was legally binding and is the framework within which the BID must operate.
He called on levy payers to lobby the board to deliver the plan.