Angry traders slam ‘corrupt’ business levy vote

Plans to transform the West End into a Business Improvement District (BID) have sparked an angry backlash from traders ahead of a key vote this week.
Critics have stated their opposition in a cartoonCritics have stated their opposition in a cartoon
Critics have stated their opposition in a cartoon

More than 150 businesses are entitled to have their say on the proposals in a ballot which is due to close on Monday.

If the BID is favoured, businesses would pay a compulsory levy going towards improved signage, marketing and cleaner streets designed to revive the area’s fortunes after tram works and the financial crash.

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But business owner James Watts claims the process is “corrupt” and “heavily weighted” in favour of the BID, views strongly denied by the steering group chairman Michael Apter.

James WattsJames Watts
James Watts

Mr Watts, who is behind the No campaign, said: “Most BIDs succeed not because the businesses vote Yes but because they don’t need a lot of yeses and business people who think No tend not to vote.

“The structure is heavily weighted in favour.”

Mr Watts, who owns a building in Melville Street and runs Joe Cool in the Grassmarket, called the scheme a “money pit”.

“I have the misfortune to have a shop in the Grassmarket BID and that certainly is a waste of money,” he said.

He has warned business owners via leaflets and e-mails that BID status was “very unlikely” to generate the cash needed to pay the levy.

Another business owner, who did not wish to be named, said some traders shared these concerns. Describing the BID as “unknown territory”, another trader said there were “too many unanswered questions” surrounding the plans.

“If the Grassmarket BID didn’t work, why would it work here?” he said.

But Councillor Frank Ross, convener of the city’s economy committee, insisted a Yes vote would help deliver more than £650,000 of investment over the next five years to the area.

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Edinburgh currently has three BIDs in operation – Greater Grassmarket, South Queensferry and Essential Edinburgh.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said the scheme had proved 
“successful” for George Street, Rose Street and Princes Street.

Michael Apter, chairman of the West End BID steering group, said they had held “many meetings” over nearly four years, during which they had taken account of the views of business owners.

He added: “BIDs have been working in the UK for many years now. Successful BIDs work for all of their levy payers because those levy payers work hard to make their BID work for their area. We are confident that we have the commitment and ambition in the West End to make our BID a success.”