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Grantham Journal letter: Just why did the ballot fail?

Go Grantham logo, BID
Go Grantham logo, BID

Regards the Grantham Bid: Why did the ballot fail, because it was too big and unwieldly.

Trying to convince more than 800 businesses over a vast area, including industrial estates, to vote on spending money on marketing and ambassadors mainly for the town centre was always going to be a tall order.

A question mark also has to be raised over the loan to develop the business proposal. The district council said they would lend up to £27,000 and yet the final total was over £68,000 to be paid back by the businesses themselves out of their bid levy.

An extra £41,000 is a huge amount and there is no mention of an independent bid consultancy company, so who exactly was this money to have been paid back to? Was it to the very vague reference of a number of private businesses financial contributions in the bid proposal? Where was the breakdown of accountability for this £68,000?

Despite the £68,000 spent on consultation it appears that many of the 800 businesses weren’t adequately informed, in fact only 130 were contacted one to one and 250 email addresses were collected. One would have thought that as a priority spending time collecting the 800 email addresses would have been money well spent out of the £68,000 budge.

Was there a draft bid proposal? No mention of this vital document was made in the final bid proposal? And was a copy of the business proposal posted out to each hereditament?

Is it really appropriate for just three individuals to run a private limited company in order to try and impose a tax (dictionary definition of the word levy) onto over 800 businesses by forcing them to take part in a ballot whether they vote yes, no, abstain or don’t vote due to lack of information?

Another reason for the failure of Grantham bid was that it appears money wasn’t invested in one of the prominent bid consultancy companies that have sprung up such as Mosaic Partnership, Revive and Thrive and The Means, these companies tend to achieve success at ballot, so how do they achieve this?

Many angry bid levy payers will say it was down to a slick operation relying on targeting potential yes votes, paying particular attention to high RV’s, and suppressing information to the majority.

Not targeting the high RV businesses in Grantham was Go Grantham bid downfall.

Going forward: Business Improvement Districts providing a supplementary targeted tax on businesses to make up for the money shortfall within local authorities may work but only if councils take on the accountability and ultimate governance of a bid themselves and add on the itemised supplementary tax to the business rates bill.

Appoint steering committees of local business people to help make decisions on how to spend the supplementary tax.

This is a very cost effective and efficient way to make good workable decisions and there is likely to be no shortage of volunteers, far easier then trying to get individuals to commit to being a director of a private limited company.

A bid ballot is a sham, there is no choice apart from take it or leave it. It is an inefficient use of resources and results in handing over the running of services that benefit the whole town to a private limited company that is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or the local Government ombudsman, this is a dangerous precedent to set.

An interesting exercise would be to work out the percentage increase on business rates across the board to raise a further £500,000 pa supplementary tax also to be ring-fenced by councils in the same way as a bid levy, not forgetting that at least 20 per cent of the £500,000 bid levy was to have been spent on overheads.

At grass roots level bids are becoming very contentious and when objections are actually allowed air time the unfairness, lack of accountability, lack of governance and inefficiency of them are easier to expose and debate.

In fact it is the total lack of a true democratic vote that could be seen as the only reason for BIDs apparent self promoted success story to date.

Debbie Barwick


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