Traders in legal challenge to BID levy

9 June 2013

In today’s Scotland on Sunday,

Amber: will BID legal challenge get green lit?

Amber: will BID legal challenge get ‘green lit’?


Bruce Whitehead reports how traders in the Edinburgh seaside town of South Queensferry are taking legal advice on a possible challenge to the Business Improvement District levy, introduced last year. They feel the figure is too high, and many believe the scheme is unfair. Read his report here: Scotland on Sunday

(you can read a fuller version of this story below)

AS STRATHCLYDE Business School reports increased dragon activity in Scotland – start-ups now match those of the top 20 economies – there’s growing disquiet about one key government initiative: Business Improvement Districts. With smaller firms quicker to employ staff in any upturn, the scheme aims to force the pace of economic recovery by raising and spending locally up to £0.5m to stimulate business. But in the Edinburgh dormitory suburb of Queensferry, the scheme, aimed at boosting trade in the beachfront town, has run into legal quicksand.

With just 186 non-domestic ratepayers liable, the BID group Queensferry Ambition has had to bump up the levy to generate enough cash. Despite a 63% yes vote for the BID last year around 30 local businesses are refusing to pay. A few have been threatened with having their bank accounts frozen by Edinburgh council enforcement officers. The Queensferry average levy of 4.8% of non-domestic rateable value compares with 1.2% for other Edinburgh BIDs.

Moira Gaynor, office manager at the Scottish Motor Trade Association’s Queensferry HQ, said: “It doesn’t make sense for us to pay a levy to help increase customers: we don’t have any. And as we have a relatively large building, our rateable value is higher than most.” Others complain that the plan to entice passengers from visiting cruise ships down the High Street simply won’t work. The town’s jeweller David Garthley, who’s organising opposition, says shipping companies are unlikely to give up passengers from lucrative coach tours of Edinburgh and the Trossachs for a stroll around the medieval High Street. Other objectors said they just wanted the town’s 12,000 residents spend money locally, instead of online or in Tesco.

Ferry sunset (c. Bruce Whitehead)

Ferry sunset (c. Bruce Whitehead)

Architect Wil Tunnell is a director of Queensferry Ambition. He stands to gain little from extra tourists: “The networking benefits have been great, schools are involved in entrepreneurial projects to increase work-awareness, and local paths are being re-designed to reduce reliance on cars and promote active travel.”

But some objectors think it’s unfair that there’s no exemption for churches, charity shops, dentists – especially when local outlets of Tesco, Shell and BP are exempt. One non-payer is a tenant on Dalmeny estate. They said: “My landlord is Lord Rosebery, who also owns several other premises occupied by levy-payers. Yet he is exempt; it’s just so unfair.”

Elsewhere BIDs are running into trouble; the blog Against BIDs reports one English scheme failing after a five-year run; BIDs in Carlisle and Mull were recently  rejected, and in Glasgow the Clarkston BID with the highest levy in the country has brought one restauranteur before sheriff’s officers for non-payment. In London’s well-heeled Fitzrovia one resident, funnyman Gryff Rhys Jones has taken up cudgels on behalf of small businesses excluded from their local BID.

"Loonies" dooking; will a levy help attract more of them?

“Loonies” dooking; will a levy help attract more of them?

Meanwhile in Queensferry, money is being collected and spent. Linda Burke, who runs the Jitterbean Café, thinks the scheme is very convenient for Edinburgh council, which normally pays for town improvements: “It saves them money because they now take it directly from local businesses when it should have come out of council tax funds.”

Wil Tunnell accepts there will be those who grudge the money. “But this is a chance to get proper funding and professional expertise, and everyone should back it. We’ve got the Forth Bridge World Heritage application coming up, Homecoming Scotland celebrations and the Forth Bridges Festival, and we need to use all these events to promote South Queensferry as an attractive place to visit and stay. The BID group is the only way to do that effectively.”

His words will cut little ice with David Garthley, who is now planning a legal challenge to the BID levy. At a meeting of objectors last week, he outlined plans to take the matter to the Court of Session at a probable cost of £12,000. “So who’s ready to fork out £500?” he asked those present.


8 Responses to “Traders in legal challenge to BID levy”

  1. Concerned Businessman Says:

    Lots of disgruntled business people all over the country, plenty of unhappy people in Alloa and Clackmannanshire. I will be looking out for news of David Garthley’s legal challenge.

  2. Concerned Businessman Says:

    Why should the local council not be paying for a lot of these “improvements”? or in fact why should my landlord profit further from not having to bother while the bid levy pays for it? My landlord is laughing all the way to the bank, while small businesses have to fork out more.

  3. Grassmarket BID Concerns Group Says:

    We in the Greater Grassmarket BID area are also pursuing a challenge. We have already raised a petition against the BID which has been signed by 65 businesses, 6 MORE THAN ORIGINALLY VOTED IN FAVOUR OF THE BID, and the number of those against is growing by the day.

  4. Quite a few shops in Plymouth are severely damaged by a bid company intent at supporting only its select few friends. Some shops I know have never once seen xmas lights, events, promotion etc whilst others have been run out of business by the huge support Bid gives to their competitors in continental markets etc.

  5. brucewhitehead Says:

    Thanks everyone. At the recent public meeting, the protesters seemed mainly to be worried about lack of communication by the BID networkers. The fact that they are exempting Tesco, Shell etc and charging more than other BIDs wasn’t addressed. But David Garthley was on good form with his analysis of the Council block vote in favour, which showed that it used the “votes” of public toilets and waste ground plots to force this through!

  6. quite a few people have started a facebook against bids campaign. Our bid company is not a local authority so my freedom of information requests are useless, meaning we are denied access to the full accounts as my fiancée wants to challenge recent lucrative printing jobs given (without tender) to a friend of the city centre managers office

  7. Anonymous Says:

    How can you start a legal challenge

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