Holyrood petitioned to re-run of ‘flawed’ BID vote

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SMALL business owners around Edinburgh’s Grass­market are to petition the Scottish Government to force a re-run of a ballot for a local business improvement district (BID).

Retailers and restaurant owners are furious that the BID was formed in February despite claims that the voting process in November was flawed.

Organisers have collected a petition with 65 names of business owners who want to see the BID vote repealed and re-run. The number of traders who signed up is more than the 59 votes that were made in support of the BID, which requires all business owners in an area to pay a levy based on the rateable value of their property.

The organisers estimate that more than 15 involved in the protest risk facing legal action after withholding their levy payments.

There are currently 20 BIDs in Scotland with some proving less popular than others. Business owners in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, voted for a BID in 2010 but one restaurateur has been brought before sheriff’s officers for non-payment.

Traders in Largs are also fighting the creation of the BID there with an appeal to Scottish ministers over claims of bullying and mismanagement. The island of Mull and traders in Stornoway have rejected BIDs outright.

Traders in South Queens­ferry are in dispute over plans to raise the BID levy, with some businesses refusing to pay the increased fees. About 30 people are unhappy at being forced to fork out an average of 4.8 per cent of their non-domestic rateable value, when other BIDs pay 1.2 per cent.

Nevertheless, businesses in Inverness, Bathgate and around Clackmannanshire voted to renew their local improvement initiatives for a further five years, while Essential Edinburgh, the first BID in the capital, also had its term 
renewed in May.

Gordon Thomson, a translator based in West Port, is leading the petition. He said: “We intend to investigate the ballot process which we think is flawed. A lot of people didn’t get ballot papers. There was a certain lack of knowledge about what a BID was and the implications of it. We think the ballot was not conducted properly and we are now taking it to Scottish Government.

“A BID could be a good thing. It has been successful, particularly in the US, but these tend to be in large areas and where the lower rateable values are excluded and there are more large businesses.”

Georgia Artus, the BID project manager who was appointed in February, said she was “sympathetic” to the traders and said the board discussed the petition at a meeting last week and would respond to the petitioners this week.

She said: “We feel the ballot was legally binding. We have issued invitation to members of the concerned group a number of times. There are ways in which we can work them to make sure the financial costs of being involved in the BID can be got rid of.”