On 11th January IPM and BID Foundation member, Ros Morgan, Chief Executive of Heart of London Business Alliance, gave evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and its inquiry into supporting high streets after Covid-19.
Heart of London Business Alliance (HOLBA) represent over 600 businesses and property owners in the area surrounding Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Piccadilly & St James's. HOLBA ensure the commercial and cultural wellbeing of the area and under normal times host over 45,000 employees, providing roughly 1,180 jobs per hectare, with an economic contribution of £4.6bn GVA including an immeasurable cultural contribution to London and the whole country.
Ros Morgan was joined as a witness at the Parliamentary hearing alongside Martin McTague from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Both witnesses needed to provide evidence on behalf of their organisations to the committee panel chaired by Clive Betts MP, with representation from Bob Blackman MP and Ian Byrne MP.
Government support for high street businesses
Initial questions focussed on the support provided by government to businesses on the high street, with Bob Blackman MP asking whether the current Government business support packages were sufficient.
Ros Morgan responded by saying that the support packages needed to “move beyond a one size fits all to reflect the difference in areas… and the different needs within the business community.”
The role of BIDs
Panellists were also asked about the role of Business Improvement districts as high streets and town centres look towards recovery. Bob Blackman MP asked about BIDs’ roles in placemaking, questioning whether they focussed too heavily on commercial success.
Ros Morgan argued that BIDs benefit the wider community and not just the business that pay the levy, stating:
“There has been a perception that BIDs only speak to businesses. Over time the lines have blurred, in the 20 years I have worked in the BID industry, I have got to know the entire community because you realise you do need to work together. We embrace the whole community and we get a much greater return on the investment in the area when we do that.”
Talking more widely about the effects of the pandemic on the BID industry, Ros Morgan noted that BIDs have been working with reduced income with levy collection significantly down on the expected rate. However, arguing that BIDs have a more important role than ever before, as town centres look to recover:
“Originally, BIDs were designed around crisis because businesses needed one single vehicle to bring their thoughts and ideas together and come up with solutions. We are in a crisis, therefore, BIDs have become even more important… our responsibility is to spend the money on what the community wants.”
Additionally, panellists were asked about the future of the BIDs model and whether BIDs should be more community focussed and be renamed as Community Improvement Districts (CIDs). Ros Morgan responded suggesting renaming BIDs to CIDs was a simplification of a complex issue, explaining that currently only businesses pay into the levy which why they are called BIDs. Despite the name, Ros Morgan reiterated her earlier point that BIDs should still include and consider the wider community saying:
“Any sensible BID will include their wider community if they’re really looking to the future… Over the years BIDs have developed from that janitorial role to place management and place shaping. Our BID along with partners such as New West End Company (NWEC) are leading the charge with Westminster and London partners to establish an investment and recovery programme so we know where we are going.”
IPM’s special interest group, The BID Foundation, works hard to make sure BIDs and BID issues are heard and represented at a national level. We would like to thank Ros Morgan and Heart of London Business Alliance for their contribution in representing the sector at the committee.
Click here to watch back the session in full