The ballot has now opened for many businesses in the JQ to have their say on whether we should become a BID – a Business Improvement District. For those who don’t know, a BID is an area where the majority of eligible businesses vote to pay a small increase in their business rates, on the condition that they – and not the Local Authority – get to decide what improvements to spend it on. Benchmarking ensures that this ‘new money’ doesn’t end up getting spent on services that the Local Authority is supposed to fund. The first BIDs were set up in Canada in 1970, but we were a bit slow to catch up; the necessary legislation only arrived in England in 2003/4. As of early 2012 there are 110 BIDs in the UK, with four in Birmingham City Centre and nine across the City as a whole.
Why should residents care about what the businesses get up to? How will a BID improve things for us? Well, we get a say on the BID board, because in our case the organisation behind the JQ BID is the JQ Development Trust, and the JQNF is a founding member. But beyond that, making the JQ a better place for business will, in most cases, make it a better place for residents. Making our little slice of Brum safer, greener and more attractive – improving connectivity with the City Centre, adding to our cultural offering – these things will also make the JQ a better place to live, as well as make a living. The funds raised by the JQ BID are likely to top £400,000 per year – and that money could be spent on anything from cultural events to deep cleansing and from improved routes into the City to glossy marketing and flowers on our streets. No endless committees to go through, no ‘silly season’ in March when money must be spent-or-lost, and no politics. Just a group of local business owners, aided by residents’ representatives, deciding what OUR priorities are. There is already a prospectus, drawn from extensive consultation with local people, but even this can evolve over the five years of the BID term.
If you own a business with a rateable value of £10,000 per year or more, then you need to check your mailbox – your real, actual-through-the-post mailbox and find your ballot paper. If you haven’t had one, or it got dropped into the shredder by mistake, contact this person and ask for another. If you’ve found your ballot (sent by the Electoral Reform Society) and voted ‘yes’ then well done. If you’ve not voted yet then please vote ‘yes’ – for all our sakes. This is a chance for the JQ to shape its own future with its own money. Don’t waste it.