Preston BID (Business Improvement District) is an affiliation between city-centre businesses and partners to promote Preston as a place to work, visit and live. Tracy Hargreaves spoke to Chairman John Boydell about how its services have been needed more than ever during Covid-19
John has been chairman of Preston Bid for a number of years and he is also a board member of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce. Previously he was a partner at Brabners legal practice in the city for 16 years, so his experience of working with local businesses is second to none.
“BID is a great idea,” said John. “What I like about it is that it provides an opportunity for businesses to say what they need, over and above Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council services, and ring-fences levy contributions for those additional needs. Whilst it is business focused, it’s also about playing a significant part in the local community. It’s an opportunity to develop relationships between private and public sectors, encourage corporate social responsibility, provide sustainable investment for on-going capital projects/services and create a positive sense of place and enhanced community pride.”
Preston BID is now in its third term and will, in due course, be preparing its manifesto to put to businesses for a fourth term. Businesses with a rateable value exceeding £10,000 vote on the manifesto and if a majority backs it then ratepayers contribute 1 per cent through their business rates, which funds allow the creation of changes that will benefit them. However, it’s not just about ideas, BID is also about active planning and collaborative working with organisations to deliver a strategic vision for Preston that everybody can buy into. It’s important to ensure that the plan is actioned and doesn’t just remain on a shelf.
One thing that John is keen to stress is that the money reaches the sharp end. “We are very light on admin,” he says. “We are a not for profit company and we want to make sure that we can deliver what the businesses want in a cost-effective way, whether that’s additional street cleaning or a campaign to promote events in the city to increase footfall. We try to have a thoughtful, but agile approach, providing solutions to problems, but also it’s about getting businesses to help themselves.”
With many companies having to close over the last few months and others looking at new ways to trade, it’s been a difficult period. “Of course, we want to see full shops and full employment in the city after Covid,” adds John, “but this is going to take time. Businesses may need to adapt and that isn’t always easy for some sectors.”
“We have spent a lot of time communicating with the organisations in Preston, to keep that engagement going. They need to know that we are here for them to offer practical advice and support. Yes, there will be hurdles to cross, but it’s about making sure people don’t feel alone. Lots of businesses, many family-owned for years, have suddenly been left with no income. Unfortunately, the reality is that Preston will be like many towns and cities across the country and will have to adapt to survive. Some organisations may choose to stay as they are and not take action, whilst others will thrive by being innovative and forward thinking.”
John continues: “The vision is to think outside the box and that might be to look at how companies can work collaboratively. Can independents share a marketing budget or delivery drivers? Restaurants have been particularly badly hit. Do they have a kitchen they are not using that they can rent out or spare space that anyone can use?”
As part of BID’s wider programme to get the city centre back on its feet, it handed out tens of thousands of face coverings to visitors. The face coverings were available from a pop-up station on the Flag Market from Monday to Saturday. Members of the public can also access complimentary hand-sanitising facilities which have been placed around the city centre.
Preston BID is also joining Croydon BID and national bodies in its latest campaign, #RaiseTheBar, asking central government to expand the rateable value threshold for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses from £51,000 to any business with a rateable value up to and including £150,000, allowing businesses the opportunity to access the £25,000 grant in order to survive.
“Some retailers are too small to make a difference on their own but working together with partners can prove beneficial in getting important decisions overturned,” added John.
So, what does the future hold for Preston? “There is still a lot of investment in the city,” adds John. “It’s got a state-of-the-art university, it has successfully achieved a purple flag safe city status since 2012, being the only place in Lancashire to do so and has a great range of national and independent stores”
“We want to continue to welcome people into Preston. It certainly has a lot to offer and I am confident that with the right support, dedication and commitment, it will remain a thriving city in which to live, work and visit.”