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Driving The City Centre Forward

8 June 2015
Driving The City Centre Forward
LeedsBID is a new business-led partnership officially launched in April this year to enable coordinated investment and make Leeds a Business Improvement District (BID). Keith Ramsay, its interim CEO, spoke to Leeds Living about the aims of the organisation to improve business for the whole city:

1. LeedsBID is an initiative by the business community of Leeds for the development and improvement of the business environment of the city as a whole. Would you please tell us more?

LeedsBID is essentially a not for profit organisation set up to help drive forward the economic prospects of the business community in the city centre, and from that generate overall opportunities for Leeds as a wider city. The initiative is an attempt to coordinate efforts by businesses belonging to all sectors; a path for much of their activity to join up to provide a mechanism to ensure coordinated activity and thereby maximise opportunities. It is about driving the economic prospects of the city centre so that the whole of Leeds will benefit from that impetus. It is very much a business community-driven exercise. So for example a lot of what we do will be marketing and promoting the LeedsBID area through a range of initiatives relating to bringing more businesses, drawing investments and promoting the work of businesses within the LeedsBID area.

2. Who will be actively involved in this initiative and how will LeedsBID be funded?

This was set up by a group of businesses across all sectors represented in the LeedsBID area including offices, retail, public sector, culture who could see the need to collaborate to really promote the city centre of Leeds. The City Council is also a part of this venture.

The professional services were also passionately behind this. As the economy grows again organisations representing the legal, financial and creative sectors understood the need to work together for the benefit of everyone.

LeedsBID will be funded through a compulsory levy on businesses in the LeedsBID area that have a rateable value of more than £ 60,000 per annum. As such, 954 businesses will pay a levy; and the money derived will help us deliver initiatives, projects and programmes that will not only improve and enhance the LeedsBID area but also in turn help the businesses involved grow and prosper. LeedsBID will also seek match funding to really drive up growth and additionality.

3. Is this part of a wider national agenda?

BIDs have been in the United States since the 1960s and it’s an idea that now has transported itself across the world. So today a lot of countries have BIDS. We have 210 now in the United Kingdom and we are the 200th. There are some very large BIDs as well as smaller ones such as Otley, for example. Otley is a very small market town and is a part of Leeds. Otley has its own BID because they wanted to do something to improve their economic prospects. A lot of the BIDs in the rest of the country however, tend to focus on one sector, either retail or hospitality. But we have been generic right across all sectors. We have taken a physical area approach rather than sector approach.

4. One of the main priorities of LeedsBID is to raise the profile of the city from a consumer and corporate perspective and promote the city as a brand. How do you intend to do this?

We have three major themes: the Leeds Welcome, Leeds Experience and the Leeds Business Voice. Through these, what we are trying to achieve is to improve and enhance three specific themes.

First of all Leeds Welcome is about making sure that people feel both physically and spiritually welcome in Leeds. This is not only about how we come across as a business community in a very positive way but also equally about investing in physical improvements to the BID area to make it more attractive and inviting.

The Leeds experience is about making sure that those who come to Leeds for business purposes, to shop or take opportunities of the hospitality and leisure sectors, all have a wonderful experience; so that they go away and tell their family and friends bringing in more and more people who would come and enjoy Leeds. This is about a range of projects that will improve the experience people have when they come into the LeedsBID area.

Thirdly, the largest sector within the LeedsBID area is professional and financial services. We want to make sure that their voice is heard. We want to create an environment that will improve the experience for these companies, their staff, their customers, their clients but equally we want to make it more about more people wanting to come and work in Leeds.

This is about what we can do to attract more people with skills to work in the LeedsBID area. We want to make sure that we create an attractive option for companies to take up space in the LeedsBID area, rent offices or locate their business here making it a very exciting place to work with the best work force available that they can access.

5. Looking at the LeedsBID area it is evident that the city centre south of the river is not included. However, the South Bank is one of the more extensively developed areas in Leeds both currently and over the next few years. Why was this area excluded?

It was excluded merely for the reason that the logical physical boundary was the inner ring road and the river. Also, the area south of the river is very much in development mode, fast moving in development but at the time of the BID vote earlier this year I think it may have proved difficult for some businesses to move in. So the decision was made not to go outside the natural ring road and river boundaries.

However, we are aware that businesses south of the river want to be involved in the LeedsBID activities. Therefore, I imagine over the next few years we will form strategic partnerships with some of these businesses; some of these businesses might become friends of the LeedsBID. But we have a five year life and when we have delivered on our business plan we can go back and widen the geographical reach of the LeedsBID area.

We could actually extend further to the north and west of the city centre as well to include some of the business communities in those areas. But I think those will be decisions for the next iteration of the LeedsBID in five years.

The LeedsBID area:

LeedsBID Area - Article

6. Finally, what is the current status of plans and initiatives for the LeedsBID area under this initiative?

We have a business plan which was voted on by the businesses who voted in February this year. This business plan has a range of initiatives to underpin the themes and we are now starting to deliver and implement them.

I’m the interim CEO and we are in the process of recruiting a permanent management team. At the same time we are commencing work on some of the proposed plans and projects. For instance, we have big plans for Christmas in Leeds City Centre. We also have some major initiatives in order to draw more conferences into Leeds. Equally, we are looking at better connectivity on the internet and using business data for all businesses to benefit from. What’s more we are also looking at the environment and how green and environmentally friendly the LeedsBID area is.

On the whole, we have begun working towards five years of investment in the city centre, to help drive the LeedsBID area forward to make it more attractive and capable of competing on a more global scale.

By
Kam is a Business Writer for Leeds Living. Having joined in April 2015 she writes for the Strictly Business section and specialises in business editorials.