The Diversity of BIDs in Scotland

The Diversity of BIDs in Scotland

The number of business improvement districts, or BIDs as they are commonly known, continue to grow across Scotland. All of them are being developed by local people who believe that collaboration and partnership working is the best way forward for their area.

A BID gives local people a structure and a recognised model to work with, a model not just recognised by other bodies and the Scottish Government, but one that is recognised over the world. BIDs are a unique example of business and community development, reimagining their communities whilst making a contribution to the national economy.

BIDs are a partnership between the private, public and third sectors and with their local community: It’s that strength of partnership at a local level that allows improvements to be made that will bring a return on investment and reduced costs for local businesses, grow an inclusive economy, feed into community development and deliver on the wider ambitions of the local residential community.

A BID partnership is built from the bottom up and are as individual as the area they serve, addressing issues that have been identified locally with a local solution, whilst having access to help and advice from not only BIDs Scotland and the local BIDs network across Scotland but also the many organisations, agencies and bodies that we all work with.

So what do BIDs do? Well, many of the BIDs are in town and city centres in Scotland and their main areas of work in the past involved access to the town or city, safety, cleanliness, events and lobbying, but BIDs in Scotland have evolved as the landscape across the public sector has changed and as the public - private partnerships have developed at both a local and national level. Many BIDs are now working with their local schools and in some cases universities, whilst others are involved in youth employment, the employment agenda, climate change and health. What they don’t do is substitute or replicate statutory services. There are no restrictions on what a BID can deliver or the ambitions of local partnerships. 

But the use of the BIDs model continues to develop as people and agencies recognise this very unique piece of legislation and the opportunities that still exist for innovative and creative BIDs.

In 2003 the consultation on the BIDs legislation in Scotland concluded that BIDs should not be just about towns and cities and that the legislation should be flexible to include business parks, rural areas, tourism and visitor areas, single business sectors and more importantly should allow innovative and creative BIDs to be developed. The opportunity to develop diverse and innovative BIDs was built into the legislation from the beginning.

In March 2014 we saw the first Tourism BID this side of the Atlantic approved at ballot, Visit Inverness and Loch Ness a TBID that covers some 1200 square miles and involves 300 businesses, bringing a security of finance for five years and a business plan that can be delivered. 

In June 2016 we saw the historic and probably the only Food and Drink BID in the world approved at ballot in East Lothian

The East Lothian Food and Drink BID is ground breaking, delivering projects on sales and marketing, transport and distribution, business support and the development of new markets both within this country and abroad. The East Lothian Food and Drink BID is a significant step in the development of BIDs in Scotland and the use of the BIDs financial model.

So far there have been 12 renewal ballots in Scotland and all have been successful, so why are BIDs successful?

Much of the credit has to go to the local boards of directors who give their time voluntarily to make things happen, but there are three other critical factors, dedicated staff to make sure that the agreed business plan is delivered, a strong partnership with the local authority and sustainable finance, a critically important element of BIDs in the face of continuing public sector financial pressures and a scarcer grant funding landscape.

In 2013, the BIDs were leveraging in another pound for every pound of levy, something that would not have happened without the BID partnership being in place, with a standout example being Queensferry Ambition who managed to raise £256,000 for a levy investment of £12,500 in 2014.    

So where do we go next? Recently we have seen the emergence of ‘Canal BIDs’ aimed at growing the tourism market, securing investment and improving asset growth and management, whilst there are future opportunities along the Borders Railway aligning the significant capital investment with longer term revenue investment, to the benefit of the local communities and the local economy. The recent Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act has opened up further opportunities for the BID partnerships.  

As we celebrate 10 years of Business Improvement District legislation in Scotland, there are now 36 examples of operational business improvement districts and a further 14 in development, we look forward to working with other local groups, local authorities and other bodies who want to work in partnership to deliver real change, improvement and a growing inclusive economy.

For further information about BIDs in Scotland see

For an exploratory conversation contact the writer.

BIDs in Scotland – The Next Generation.

Reproduced in part from an article written by the writer for the Sunday Herald.