Roddy Smith: Improving Edinburgh an ongoing business

Over the past ten years, hundreds of businesses in Edinburgh city centre have been investing millions of pounds of hard cash in the success of the heart of Scotland's Capital.

Essential Edinburgh manages £1million a year from city centre businesses, which helps keep the Improvement District area clean and generates more shoppers with services and events. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

By this time next year, they will have decided whether or not to continue to put their money where their business is and build on a decade of success in Scotland’s largest Business Improvement District (BID).

Essential Edinburgh was established to run the city centre BID, and we have just launched our draft business plan for 2018-2023 for consultation with our levy-paying members. Qualifying rate-paying businesses in the BID area vote and then contribute a monetary levy to fund the BID. If the BID is voted for by a majority of businesses, all of the qualifying ­businesses pay.

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That has translated into city ­centre businesses investing more than £1 million a year in ensuring the city centre performs as well as it possibly can, through funding a raft of events, campaigns and services. We’ve ­managed to generate additional ­revenue to cover our core running costs, meaning every penny our members give us goes to promote and enhance the city centre.

Friends of the Scotsman Roddy Smith - Essential Edinburgh

It’s something which has worked well. Don’t just take my word for it, look at some of the figures from the past five years.

Footfall averages are running more than 2.7 per cent ahead of UK averages, helped annually by BID events – including 280,874 to Street of Light in George Street last year.

BID events also generated positive economic benefit of £5.4 million in just one year.

Almost 2000 tons of trade waste were diverted from landfill through the trade waste initiative run in partnership with Changeworks Recycling, reducing bills for participating levy-payers.

Friends of the Scotsman Roddy Smith - Essential Edinburgh

Recorded crime is down 7.6 per cent on the five year average through crime reduction partnerships such as Check Out, Check In, Gold Watch and the presence of weekend taxi marshals and increased CCTV cover.

There have also been year-on-year increases in the city centre’s Keep Scotland Beautiful audit score, with almost 80per cent of visitors to the city centre believing it is cleaner than the rest of the city.

So, after talking with some of our members, we decided to build on all of this positive work as we look forward. In particular, we asked what priorities businesses would like to see us tackle. Promoting the area will continue to be a key focus. ­Creating an imaginative events schedule will remain key, running alongside a major marketing campaign.

Management of public spaces in the city centre will help ensure a vibrant part in the city’s festivals, and a city centre wide gift card will be developed.

Protecting businesses, customers and staff will also continue to be important. A partnership with Police Scotland will see full-time BID police officers deployed, the crime reduction projects will continue, as will funding for taxi marshals and CCTV. There will also be investment to support the multi-agency programme to address issues of homelessness and begging. Street lighting in Rose Street will be improved and we will support the council in improving the public realm.

Keeping the area clean will see an enhanced Clean Team, increased planters and on-street flowers, and the trade waste partnership with Changeworks Recycling will be ­continued to provide environmental benefits and cost savings to ­members.

The BID team will also work to improve signage and way-finding through the BID area and the wider city centre, will help to manage the George Street Design Project, and will proactively seek to take over the ­management of the public open ­spaces – such as in Castle Street – in the city centre.

The draft business report is now going out to consultation, and we will work on the plan in light of the feedback we receive over the coming months. We are running feedback sessions at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in George Street on 22 June, 7 September and 21 September, with full details on our website. Our final business plan will be distributed ­early in March next year.

In April 2018, voting papers will be issued to all of the 600 eligible businesses and the ballot will run until 24 May. In 2013, there was a very positive vote with a big majority of businesses voting to renew – it’s to be hoped that our members remain convinced by the value of what we are doing.

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.