Concerns have been raised by Kirkcaldy traders over plans to replace Kirkcaldy4All with a new Digital Innovation District (DID), with some saying it lacks transparency and that it is still unclear what it would even do.
Kirkcaldy4All, which currently promotes business in the town centre and plays a key role in organising events, is set to close in March next year.
But its proposed replacement has already caused uproar among some traders, who say they fear they’ll be forced to pay annually for something that amounts to little more than a social media presence.
Kirkcaldy4All currently is run by a board made up of town centre traders and councillors, but the proposed DID is a private limited company, Destination Digital.
The company was set up two years ago by Kirkcaldy4All BID manager Bill Harvey, Simon Baldwin of Destination 66 – which has been running social media for Kirkcaldy4All, and Richard Watson of Rapier Systems – the company which runs the current town wifi.
A stormy meeting held last week at St Bryce’s Kirk saw heated exchanges between traders and representatives of Kirkcaldy4All.
Kirkcaldy West Community Council is involved in the project. The meeting was chaired by the group’s Stewart Ness.
He said: “Given the interest we’ve had after the public meeting, I think we’re in a position to put it together in the coming weeks.
“We’re very aware of timescale and that Kirkcaldy4All is ending in March, so keen to get the steering group together as soon as possible.”
Mr Ness said claims that the new DID might be just a glorified social media presence have to be taken on board.
“I think it’s a fair point that they’re making. Whatever the steering group comes up with, it needs to go beyond what is currently offered.
“I think it’s something that the steering group has to take on board; the feedback both positive and negative.”
However, he added that copying the model which is currently in place would not work.
“Kirkcaldy4All has decided not to re-ballot because it doesn’t think the model it has been running for the last couple of years is financially viable, so perhaps the emphasis on something physical can’t be delivered within where we are as a town.
“The present is digital.
“People are changing to a digital lifestyle, with online shopping and social interactions via digital means. If we as a town aren’t trying to make that work for us then we’re already behind.
“I want to hear as many voices as possible and for people to have their say on what will replace Kirkcaldy4All, if anything.”
Kirkcaldy West Community Council need five per cent of businesses to trigger funding from the Scottish Government to run a 15 month project. At the end of this the businesses would vote on whether or not the DID would continue, at which point they would then begin paying the DID if it was voted through.
Simon Baldwin, director of Destination Digital, which is hoping to run the new DID, said the remit has yet to be set out.
He said: “It will be shaped by the steering group. It’ll be digitally focused, but as far as what it can bring it’ll deliver whatever the steering group that will be set up wants it to deliver. Wednesday’s meeting was about finding out if people support the idea of trying to do something that will replace what Kirkcaldy4All has done.”
Regarding claims of confusion around exactly what the DID would do, Mr Baldwin said the best thing would be to “get behind Stewart Ness and the community council and to run a 15-month demonstration project. After which; businesses will have the vote to say ‘we want to do this or not’.”
He added: “I can’t say what will be delivered because I’m not on the steering group – it will shape what happens next.”
Will they promote Asda as much as us?
Critics of the proposal say the new DID would be like paying to replace Kirkcaldy4All with little more than a Facebook page.
Kirsty Bremner of Print It Stitch It said: “We can run our own social media account between us.
“They haven’t given us enough notice to create a Plan B.
“It came out in June that they weren’t going to go ahead with Kirkcaldy4All because it’s not financially viable.
“They’re going to remove all aspect of community, where they used to do the marches and the lantern walks, or reducing parking down to a pound for the first hour. Those are the things that actually benefit businesses in the town.
“All that’s gone, and instead they’re going to do it all on a digital platform and advertise all Kirkcaldy businesses right up to St Clair Street or Rosslyn street.
“There are no set boundaries, so we’re having to agree to something that could make us compete against Asda. Are they going to advertise Asda as much as us?”
Kirsty said that moving to a digital platform run by the team behind Kirkcaldy4All would not be ideal, but acknowledged that someone should be promoting local businesses.
“Their current social media plan isn’t working, so the thought of it being the only option doesn’t seem right to business owners.
“We have enough on, everybody’s busy, we need someone that’s not.
“If you’re going to give me a £50,000 grant from the government and £100 minimum per business in Kirkcaldy, and there’s at least 3500 of them, I’ll sell my business and I’ll run it because guarranteed I’ll make more money than doing this.”
‘We need to be consulted’
Juliet Fawns, of Bakers Field cafe on Tolbooth Street criticsed the proposed new DID.
“It’s basically a glorified Facebook account,” she said.
“We’ve been told we can have that or nothing? But who decided we can’t have an alternative?
“We need to be consulted in the first instance.”
Juliet feels the plan to group the whole town together also doesn’t make sense.
“We already have a digital presence. We get more response from influencers than we ever have from Kirkcaldy4All.
“We’re in direct competition with the retail park – it’s thriving.
“It doesn’t have a problem getting people in the door, we’re having a problem in the town centre.
“There are different sets of problems here and they’re going to lump us together. It doesn’t make sense.
“The traders haven’t had any meetings. There has to be a meeting of the traders involved in the BID to put our ideas forward for the future.
“There are a lot of clever people here in Kirkcaldy with a lot of experience in business. I’m sure if we were to put our heads together and have discussions – but we’ve had no time to do this.”
Ken Dorian, who owns a number of properties which house businesses in Kirkcaldy said: “I’m against this in principle.
“I’m for the BID, because I believe we need something to look after the town, and, as individuals, we don’t have time.
“Kirkcaldy4All has been running a social media page for several years through Destination 66, and it now believes this is the next step when it closes the BID.
“And it’s for a digital presence that most of these people already have.
“What bothers me is that the company that is telling us we have no choice but to choose them, Destination Digital, was created two years ago so it has known about it. The current manager for Kirkcaldy4All, along with two of his suppliers, are now the sole directors.
“I’d say it’s a serious conflict of interest.
“Kirkcaldy4All has put on lantern parades, fireworks displays.
“Bill’s been good if you need to speak to someone and he’s been quite good with the Merchant’s Quarter at times, putting up banners for us, and giving money to help businesses start up, but that all disappears.
“This new idea – it seems to be just a Facebook page, and that’s all the money is for.”