Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Greater transparency needed from the Harrogate BID

19 November 2020

The Harrogate BID is paid for by businesses in the town centre with an aim to promote and develop the town centre.

BIDS were introduced in 2004 by the then Labour Government and there are now around 300 in the UK.

Each BID has a defined area and collect a business levy of between 1% and 2% of the business rateable value.

  • A BID is for 5-Years
  • The BID levy is mandatory for businesses above a threshold of a business rateable value of £20,000 per year and optional below that rate
  • For the BID to proceed it needs a majority in number and a majority in total business rate values of those that have voted for it
  • 108 businesses voted for and 23 voted against
  • It is estimate that Harrogate BID collects between £500k and £600k on levy payments each year
  • Harrogate BID was voted for in November 2018

Although they have been established by Parliament, and collect public money, they are not subject to the transparency and accountability requirements that apply to public bodies.

For anyone looking to question a BID’s activity, it puts a significant block in the way.  That is a block that we have certainly seen from the Harrogate BID.

As an example we looked at the BID’s payment for the cleaning of the streets. The BID declined to provide any details on it, such as the scope of the clean or the costs. Harrogate Borough Council has a responsibility for street cleaning. It is not clear if the BID has picked up some work that the council had previously undertaken.  The BID have said it has been a great for the town.

It’s worth noting the culture change within the BID since John Fox stood down as Chairman, that was at the end of 2019.

We have tried to establish a working relationship with the BID, but that has proved very difficult. They have adopted an approach of largely ignoring emails and then responding weeks later, after being prompted, and with as few words as possible.

In a statement from the Harrogate BID:

We need to make it clear BIDs are not public bodies. Whilst we have representatives from HBC and NYCC on the board, we are not part of them and act independently of them. We are a limited company governed by Articles of Association.

Being paid for by levy payers it has a moral level of accountability.

As a publisher we have tried to communicate more to our readers on what the Harrogate BID is doing. That has been impossible, and we do not have an understanding of what the Harrogate BID does.

The BID is formed of a Chairperson, a salaried BID Manager and a BID Board.

If we look at ta BID Board, and its constitution, it will attract people for a variety of reasons

  • Those that want to do something of benefit for the town, to give their time and make a difference
  • Those that think their status deserves a place on the BID Board
  • Those that just want to use it to further their own personal agenda

If we reflect on the recent events at the BID, John Fox as chairman was ousted in December 2019. Other board members also went at the time and the BID Board saw a greater representation from Harrogate independents businesses.

The representation from Harrogate independent businesses then stood-down from the board citing too great a Council control.

If you follow news items on the BID you will see favouritism to some news outlets. Many of our emails have simply been ignored and obvious items releases on press releases have been sent to certain outlets only.

That then leads to the question of why would they do that ? The answer is that they are working media channels where they get a more favourable response and that’s not unusual in the media world. The other reason is due to personality issues from individually personalities on the BID to the Harrogate Informer.

But just because there is a refusal to engage, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be reported on. A refusal to engage means ignoring emails and not proactively engaging – as a limited company that their decision of course, but it is not a decision that serves the town well.

For many of the levy payers it is an insignificant stealth tax for their business, a tax that is barely noticed, but for others it is more significant. Few of the levy payers apparently want to hold the BID to account.

Given the significant amount of cash they collect, they should be much clearer on where it is being spent and why – there  is no transparency.

Apart from the financial spend, a BID is an opportunity to bring people together and work as a community. It is very sad that there has been an apparent battle to be on the BID Board, in-fighting on board and then people giving up and leaving. Harrogate seems to have an ongoing battle with which organisations or individuals that want to be seen part of the “good and the great” of Harrogate, rather then genuinely contributing to the town.





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