The mayor of Bedford Borough has expressed disappointment at Bedford BID, the organisation set up to promote Bedford Town Centre, after being told “virtually on a daily basis” to “scrap them and get rid of it”.
Mayor Tom Wootton was making the comments during an exclusive interview with the Bedford Independent about his first few months in office and how he was finding what he calls “the best job in the world”.
The Mayor recently launched the council’s vision for Bedford Town Centre and was asked if he had regular contact with Bedford BID, who promote Bedford Town Centre under their Love Bedford brand, to discuss how best to attract more shoppers and businesses into Bedford.
“I’ve yet to meet them,” he said, “They haven’t made time to see me. I hope they will.
“People have strong opinions about [Bedford BID]. I get a lot of siren voices, virtually everybody, telling me to scrap them and get rid of it. I’ve only had one person tell me what a good job they did.”
BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) exist throughout the UK. Bedford BID was formed in 2005 as an alternative to Bedford Borough Council providing various services within the town centre.
They are paid for by a levy on businesses within their zone if the rateable value of their property is above a certain amount.
One of their main responsibilities is to promote Bedford Town Centre to attract more shoppers into the area for the benefit of all businesses within their zone.
Questions need answering
When asked why he felt Bedford BID hasn’t pushed for a meeting with him to foster good relationships and influence decisions around improving and increasing business in the town centre, the mayor appeared “frustrated” and said that was a “question for them [to answer]”.
BIDs operate for a maximum of five years and must go through a renewal ballot process at the end of each term.
However, only businesses that pay the BID levy can vote, meaning many of Bedford’s small and independent businesses don’t have a say in who promotes the town.
That’s despite experts stating that local independent businesses bring “vibrancy to the town centre”.
Many of these businesses have told the Bedford Independent that they feel very under-supported by Bedford BID. But, the mayor says there’s not much he can do for now, as the next BID vote isn’t due to take place until 2024.
“Legally I can’t do anything till next year,” added the mayor, “but, I’m not rushing into any big decisions… until I’ve actually met with them.”
The mayor, however, says that Bedford BID needs to start listening to all businesses, whether they pay a levy or not, about how they promote Bedford far and wide.
“Business is tight, every pound is important. Every pound of publicity is important, it really is. I understand that I really do. So, I get their problems and I want to help.”
Asked what things in town he felt helped promote Bedford he told us, “I like Bedford Flea, and I like the Friday evening street food [Bedford EAT Feast].”
We pointed out that neither of these events are Bedford BID initiatives and had been set up by local people independently.
We asked Bedford BID if they had attempted to meet with the Mayor since he was elected in May, but we did not receive a response before publication.
Christina Rowe, chair of Bedford BID, however, has previously said of Bedford Borough Council’s town centre vision that she is, “looking forward to contributing to the consultations and wider vision of Bedford town centre with a focus on our town centre business community.”