COULD Taunton be about to get its own Business Improvement District?

The town’s businesses were invited to a launch event at Somerset County Cricket Club on Tuesday evening (July 16) to hear from business leaders looking to bring a BID to Taunton.

A BID is a way for businesses in a defined area to decide what projects and initiatives are needed to help them thrive.

A business plan is created with consultation from the business community, and is then put to a referendum.

If approved democratically, each business within the BID area is required to pay a small levy based on the rateable value of said business.

This lasts for five years, at which point a fresh referendum must be held to see if businesses want the BID to continue.

The suggestion for the Taunton BID is that the levy is 1.5 per cent of the businesses rateable value.

This is The West Country:

MAP: The Taunton BID area is smaller and more central than the previous iteration and includes 410 eligible businesses

Only businesses within the BID area with a rateable value above £5,000 will be included in the scheme.

Colin Barrell, former president of the Taunton Chamber of Commerce, said: “There are already 35 BIDs operating in the South West - in fact Yeovil, Bridgwater and Taunton are the only sizeable towns that do not have them.

“It is becoming increasingly clear the councils do not have the budget to spend in town centres, and increasingly businesses large and small are coming under pressure.

“But if we want to do something about it, as a large group we have the chance to achieve some positive outcomes.”

Mr Barrell said the team organising the BID had learnt lessons from Taunton’s previous attempt to introduce such a scheme, which was narrowly defeated at the voting stage.

“A lot of the problems five years ago stemmed from the chosen area for the BID being too large, and it meant businesses outside the town centre did not feel they would benefit,” Mr Barrell said.

The area chosen this time around is more central, including the retail core of the town centre, The Museum of Somerset, The Cooper Associates County Ground, and The Brewhouse Theatre.

There are 410 businesses within that area and the levy would raise approximately £270,000 a year to spend on projects chosen by the businesses.

Each business within the area gets one vote, regardless of the size of the premises.

Those who vote against the BID will still have to pay if the majority of businesses vote in favour.

The collection of the levies will be carried out in the same way the Business Rates are collected, by the district council.

As for how the money is used- it will be up to the business community to decide, however initial research by the BID team has indicated that better marketing, improved security, better cleaning, cost saving initiatives, parking promotions and more events tailored to the town could be priorities.

Consultation will take place throughout the summer months with the draft BID plan due to presented in the Autumn.

The ballot will take place in early 2020, and if approved, will come into force next summer.

Minehead held a referendum on whether to adopt a Business Improvement District scheme in May last year, which was approved by 68 per cent of businesses.

Those in favour said it would be a great catalyst to bring more events to the town, but some detractors from small businesses said it was unfair that they could could not opt out of paying for a scheme they did not back.

The Taunton BID process is being lead by Taunton Chamber of Commerce.

Following a successful BID ballot a new formal BID company will be set up to implement and deliver the BID proposals.

The managing Board of this company will be made up of members of the participating businesses, and as with any Board, these will be appointed or elected, based on their skills and the contribution they can make.

Mr Barrell added: “Taunton Chamber of Commerce recognises that something needs to change to enable Taunton to stay competitive in the local market.

“We believe that a BID will provide focus and direction for businesses, whilst taking into account the needs of all town centre partners and users.”

Money raised through the levy will be ringfenced and must be spent within the BID area.

Supporters of the scheme include The Little Wine Shop, Hatchers, Orchard Shopping Centre, Wetherspoons, and Blackdown Financial among others.

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