Roddy Smith: Bidding to be best '“ how businesses improve the city centre experience

Edinburgh's city centre Business Improvement District, or BID, is one of the largest outside London '“ and we like to think it's also one of the most successful.

Roddy Smith, Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh
Roddy Smith, Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh

But the most common questions we’re asked are: What is a BID?, What does it do? and Do we need it?

Let’s avoid the technical jargon and cut straight to the chase – a BID is essentially businesses coming together and voting democratically to invest in their community, to ­benefit the common interest.

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In Edinburgh’s city centre over the past five years, that’s seen us invest more than £1 million a year of ­business money in carrying out a variety of services and events – from cleaning up chewing gum to ­financially backing Edinburgh’s Christmas – and all to improve living, working and visiting our city.

And, for the record, we need it more than ever!

Essential Edinburgh manages the BID on behalf of our member ­businesses, all 600 of them, each of them contributing an additional sum on top of their business rates.

That, in turn, has translated into some real successes and accomplishments.

For example, during the past five years, footfall in the city centre has led the UK average by more than 5.2 per cent – smashing the target set for us of 2 per cent . That translates into a lot of people, and all of those ­people bring spending and opportunities, in turn creating jobs and wealth. We lead the UK’s retail sales over the ­period by more than 2.2 per cent , and the Scottish average by 11.5 per cent . Hospitality is also performing well, up 13 per cent in the past three years.

During the past five years, our own Essential Edinburgh events have ­contributed significantly with more than £23.7 million of economic ­benefit.

But it’s not all about driving footfall and business success – although that is as vital to our citizens as it is to our businesses. It’s also about the kind of city centre we want to enjoy. In this regard too, BID has made a big ­contribution.

Our Clean Team provides businesses with a fast-response service that is additional to the statutory cleansing service provided by City of ­Edinburgh Council, and they’ve collected more than 14,000 bags of waste from our city centre streets every year. They have also cleaned up gum that would cover an area of pavement that’s equivalent to nine football pitches. They’ve removed hazardous waste, and the net result of their diligent labours is that the city centre has achieved accolades for its cleanliness, and 80 per cent of visitors to the city centre say it is cleaner than the rest of the Capital.

We’ve also worked in partnership with Police Scotland and ­others to launch a number of initiatives designed to make our city centre not just feel safer, but actually be safer.

Police Scotland figures show that recorded crime in the city centre, ­taken over a five-year average, is down 7.9 per cent. Our Check Out anti-retail crime initiative, delivering and sharing real-time information, has seen organised shoplifting plummet, and our Check In project is tackling hotel fraudsters.

Our weekend taxi marshals have helped send more than 100,000 people home safely, and the CCTV we help fund plays an important part in deterring, detecting and resolving crime. All of this work means that 89 per cent of those who took part in the Edinburgh Visitor Survey felt ­safer in the city centre than elsewhere, up from 73 per cent in 2012. Looking ahead, we’re now working with a ­dedicated BID cop to further improve the protection and safety of those who live, work and visit the area.

We’ve played our part in promoting the city too, as one of the key funders of the This Is Edinburgh two-year marketing campaign which ­delivered £50 million of economic benefit.

So back to those core questions: A BID sees businesses play a real, prominent role in their city centre, investing their own cash to deliver extra services, events and benefits. With the public purse strings pulled ­tighter than ever, we’ve never needed BIDs more.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.