AN initiative to try to get businesses to dip into their pockets in an attempt to attract shoppers to Taunton has been thrown into confusion by the coronavirus outbreak.

Several businesses have already voted in a ballot to see whether a Business Improvement District (BID) should be set up in the county town.

If approved, businesses in a defined area in the town centre would have to pay an annual levy for the next five years to fund events and initiatives to help boost the local economy.

But with numerous shops, offices, hospitality and leisure outlets currently closed due to COVID-19 measures, there are fears many firms would struggle to meet a further bill.

A rival movement has been campaigning against setting up another BID - businesses voted not to continue a previous BID after it ran out several years ago.

Businesses have until 5pm next Monday (March 30) to vote, but organisers have already contacted the Government for advice given the current situation in the country.

A pro-BID spokeswoman said: "The position we have made clear through our social media channels is that we, as a BID team, have ceased canvassing at a local level as we think it is unprofessional, inappropriate and insensitive to do so, as businesses have far more important issues to address, namely their survival and the well-being of their staff.

"Those businesses affected include members of the BID volunteer team who are as impacted as anyone else.

"We have written to the Secretary of State to ask if in the event of Taunton BID receiving a positive mandate...the BID team will be permitted to revise the BID plan in light of the new circumstances and delay its implementation until such time as the current crisis has passed and life for businesses and the high street returns to some sort of normality.

"We know that whatever happens, when we get out the other side of this terrible situation, more than ever businesses will have to work together to recover, whether that is through the mechanism of a BID or some other collective response.

"We know that it is going to be a very difficult road ahead for everyone but a collective response and effort has to be the way to secure that positive future for the town and its community.

"We understand that asking businesses to make any financial contribution in the near future is going to be problematic and we will have to wait until the crisis has passed and businesses are trading again, or that the Government will step in to fund the levy on their behalf."

Nationally various BID organisations are lobbying Government to ask them to pay the business levies on behalf of firms.