Selkirk will become the Borders’ first town to have a business improvement district (BID) – thanks to a 55% majority vote of businesses in the town.
While not a whitewash by any means, it was enough support to get the ball rolling.
It will see the town’s businesses over the rateable value of £2,000 being charged a levy, which will go into a pot and used to attract visitors to the town. It’s hoped the cash raised will be match-funded through grants from the likes of Visit Scotland, Historic Scotland and the Lottery.
The value of the levy is on a scale with the rateable value, from small businesses with a rateable value of between £2,000 to £9,999 being charged £195 a year (equivalent to £3.75 a week) up to large businesses with rateable value of £60,000 to 69,000 being charged £1,300 a year (£25 a week).
While some business owners said they would struggle to pay even the smaller figure, it appears most are willing to work with the scheme.
However, the project is moving quickly to its next step, and all those able to vote – including those who voted against the project – are being asked to nominate someone for the board of directors of the BID company which is now being formed.
Mags Fenner, the project manager for Selkirk Means Business – the organisation which has been charged with bringing the BID to this stage – said: “There was a chamber of trade meeting on Monday, December 4. Those who had voted in favour of the BID were very happy, and those who had voted against, while being far from overjoyed about it, most of them seemed to think along the lines of ‘we’ve got it, so let’s make the most of it’.
“Interestingly, some of those people we had perceived as voting against, are interested in joining the board of directors.”
She added: “The letters asking for nominations are going out this week, and nominations have to be in to us by December 29. From then, we will set up the limited company, appoint the directors, find out where our registered office will be and set up bank accounts.
“Our hope is to get it all done as early in the new year as possible.”
Once formed, the BID company will have three remits over the five years of its existence, under the following themes: flying the flag for Selkirk; improving the town’s visual appearance; and helping businesses to thrive.
The first, it plans to do through marketing and promotion, developing a website, liasing with other groups in the town, and piloting town centre ambassadors during events.
The second theme will see new signage targeted at visitors; window-dressing of empty shops, auditing of parking provision and extending the planting and landscaping improvements being done already through the Streetscape scheme.
Issues being looked at in the third category include identifying and delivering skills and training support to enable businesses to use social media and online selling effectively; exploring the viability of free town centre wifi as a pilot project. and establishing a Selkirk business newsletter via regular bulletins.
The Selkirk BID only takes in the town centre, not businesses in the Riverside area of the town, although they could become a BID in its own right in the future.
Selkirk Means Business has been supported by Scottish Borders Council, whch committed to contributing a £5,000 start-up grant as well as paying the levies for those SBC properties within the BID zone, such as the Victoria Halls.
Councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “This is brilliant news for Selkirk and I am delighted that the council has been able to support this innovative proposal.
“The concluding Selkirk CARS programme and ongoing streetscape works have been aimed at making Selkirk a vibrant place for businesses and visitors, and in that context the BID is a welcome next step, led by the community itself.
“There has been a significant local effort to get to this stage and the ongoing support of local businesspeople will help deliver the benefits of the BID in Selkirk. Hopefully, this will also prove to be the first of many BID initiatives in the Borders.”
Selkirk will now join 36 other operational BIDs across Scotland. It’s expected Galashiels will follow next year, with a vote of eligible parties taking place by October.
County Hotel co-owner Will Haegeland, who chairs the Selkirk Means Business project, says that the move is a positive one for the town.
He commented: “I am delighted and proud that Selkirk will be leading the way in The Borders by voting in favour of establishing the region’s first Business Improvement District.
“The town has received a lot of investment in recent years through the flood prevention scheme, the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme and Streetscape.
“Our business plan aims to consolidate and build on that investment over the five-year period of the BID, helping to build an identity for Selkirk as a visitor destination, and working to help the town’s businesses to thrive.”