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Monday, 01 September 2014

New BID ballot for Carlisle firms?

Businesses in Carlisle city centre may be re-balloted on plans for a Business Improvement District (Bid).

Bids aim to boost trade by using a levy on business rates to raise cash for marketing and other initiatives.

They can be set up only if a majority of businesses, by number and by rateable value, agree in a ballot.

Carlisle City Council balloted 332 city centre businesses in September.

Only 124 voted – barely a third of those eligible – and they rejected the proposal by 69 to 55. The result prompted an inquest by the council’s environment and economy scrutiny panel, which called on the ruling executive “to continue to support efforts to establish a Bid”.

The authority’s deputy leader, Colin Glover, told an executive meeting on Monday that some businesses mistakenly thought that the levy on rates would end up in council coffers.

In reality, it would be spent by the Bid board made up largely of business people. Mr Glover said: “If that view was getting out, it’s no wonder they voted ‘no’.

“One of the lessons we have to take out of this is to make sure the process is business led.”

A decision on if, and when, to hold another ballot will be taken by the Bid steering group.

Its chairman, bookseller Stephen Matthews, told the News & Star that he supported a fresh ballot.

He said: “There was a lot of misunderstanding, in terms of the advantages and about where the money would go. We need a stronger retail voice in Carlisle first, then we can assess whether the mood has changed.

“I can’t say how long that will take but I’d like it to be as soon as possible.”

A majority of businesses by rateable value backed the Bid. That suggests it had the support of large retailers but not of small independents.

Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and Wilkinsons were all supporters. Those against included Casanova Menswear, Turnbulls Lingerie and Northern Vacuums. The council pointed to Ipswich, in Suffolk, as an example of what might be done in Carlisle.

The Ipswich Bid, set up in 2007, has tackled graffiti and fly-posting and run marketing campaigns, car parking and park-and-ride promotions.

Businesses in Penrith are being balloted about setting up a Bid there. The ballot closes on November 30.

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