Just last weekend on Radio 4, Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, RSA) discussed the principle of city freedom with devolved responsibilities to cities to manage and control their resources as appropriate to the needs of their communities. As he was discussing the challenges of driving economic development in urban environments, I was driving back to Cornwall from London having been to the British BIDS Conference 2013. Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) started in North America about 25 years ago and in the UK in 2001 and, from our experience working with BIDS across the South West, we know that they offer a means for businesses to come together to exert influence and make a difference to the futures of their businesses and communities.
Interestingly, one of the examples given in the radio programme was that of Bristol where Mayor George Ferguson is developing a strong leadership approach for the city matched with lobbying for the financial and legal powers to influence and support proactive economic development. This approach is apparent throughout the Council as we noted in our work with Bristol Playday and in the approach that Broadmead BID take towards supporting and engaging their levy-payers.
At the BIDS conference, the first panel discussion explored the challenges of economic development from the perspectives of retailers, property owners, researchers and local communities and, as with the radio discussion, it quickly became apparent that in order to accommodate the peculiarities of place in our cities and towns and the changing employment and retail environment, we have to give cities, mayors, BID managers and proactive
business people the freedom to think and act strategically. If we as a nation can’t provide this flexibility, our cities (like Detroit in the USA) will go bankrupt and die, or more probably be bailed out by our constantly
indebted national government.
There is no room for failure in terms of our national, regional and local economic development. Urban or rural, product or service, public or private; the business and the location doesn’t matter if we fail to give our key organisations and individuals the power and responsibility to exert their influence over our economies at all levels. We may only play a tiny part in our part of the economy but as business owners, managers and employees, we have a duty to be as proactive as possible, to take opportunities and to work with those who have a vision and means to make our economies work. Let’s make a difference!
Managing Director of Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall