Oban’s BID supported by council

At its meeting yesterday, Thursday 28th June, Argyll and Bute Council approved the proposal put to it by the Oban Business Improvement District (BID) team.

This is a significant milestone for the plan, which will see local businesses investing collectively in order to improve the town’s trading environment. The BID system – already in operation in 11 other Scottish towns – involves the local business sector developing, managing and paying for a five-year scheme to boost the local economy.

The interesting thing about BIDs is that everybody’s in. There is no opt out. If there were, some businesses would choose to stay out of it – paying nothing in to it but benefiting from the improvements to the look of the town and to its trading context which other businesses would financially support.

If the Oban proposal makes it into practice, all businesses with a rateable value property of £3,000 or over within the town’s 30mph boundary would contribute through a modest compulsory levy. The amount of the levy relates to the rateable value of the property occupied by the individual business.

Businesses do, though, have a say in the content of the plan and have done from the off. In September every eligible business withing the BID area will be balloted on their response to the plan.

If the ballot is successful, it is hoped that the BID proposals will move into action from October 31 2012 after the formation of a limited company for which the current Steering Group will act as an interim board until nominations and any necessary elections are concluded to out the full board in place.

Graham MacQueen, who Chairs the BID4OBAN Steering Group, says that the council’s formal support was central to the proposal’s progress. ‘An enormous amount of hard work has gone into the preparation of this business plan, and I am delighted that organisations across the town have engaged with the consultation it involved and have thrown their weight behind what we believe is a tremendously exciting scheme.’

Subject to a successful ballot, Argyll and Bute Council’s support for the Oban BID plan will see it provide financial support of £20,000 a year for the five year duration of the scheme – as well as its own estimated £4,500 annual levy. The council is the occupant of multiple business premises in the town.

Council Leader Roddy McCuish says: “The council is delighted to support BID4Oban.This is a first for Oban and indeed for Argyll and Bute. I know it has been a long process – every credit to the steering group for sticking with it.

‘This is an excellent example of working together with partners and across sectors to realise Oban’s potential and we look forward to seeing the scheme rolled out across all of our towns in the future.’

Although the council has given its commitment to the proposal, the BID4OBAN business plan now has to be formally submitted to both the authority and the Scottish Government.

Ballot papers are due to be issued at the end of August. Local businesses will be asked to return them by the ballot date of October 5, following which they will be counted and the results announced within one week.

So what are they planning to do?

The plan has six objectives, each of which has a series of tasks attached to it and budgeted. The objectives and the tasks they carry relate to the feedback from businesses and visitors from the various surveys which the team has conducted.

The objectives are:

  1. Making the best first impression: This includes a range of tidying up and civic grooming tasks including smartening up business frontages (supported at 50% o0f cost to a cap of £1k per business), making empty shops look attractive and making a feature of the Black Lynn Burn’s progress through the town.
  2. Let’s shout about what’s happening in Oban: This is a mixture of financial support for new events and job creation, with an Events manager, Fundraiser and two Ambassadors who will meet, greet, direct and inform passengers from cruise ships, ferries etc
  3. Extend the visitor season:  This is an extension of Objective 2, focused on providing new events to stretch the season.
  4. Making Oban the place to stay, explore and spend:  This is about creating an ‘Oban experience’ with a town piper, vouchers and town information for cruise ship visitors and marketing family oriented experiences majoring on watersports activity.
  5. Working together for a more prosperous future: This centres on establishing an all-embracing Oban Business Forum and looking at joint procurement of utilities for small independent businesses.
  6. Making our town easier to visit: This is about improving signage and ‘Develop(ing) multi-functional street wardens (alongside ambassadors) to manage on-street parking/street scene issues in town centre.’

We have quoted the last suggestion here verbatim because it’s an element whose wisdom we’re not sure about. It might well make the town easier to visit – but possibly because this level of interventionist policing would reduce the numbers who would come.

To be brutally honest, having your parking and ‘street issues’ managed by ‘multi functional street wardens’ is something of a nightmare scenario only attractive to sado-masochists. Perhaps a tad too much on the iron fist scale?

Overall, though, this is an energetic, best-foot-forward plan that intends to set about regenerating this quite lovely west coast town over a period of five years.

Oban and Argyll at large need this to work and all who have been involved in the careful evolution of this proposal should be congratulated.

To be sure of meeting its targets, the BID proposal includes scheduled progress checks – at the half way mark and again at the end of Year Four.

We would suggest annual progress checks, with the first at the end of Year One.  Mission drift is more likely in the early stages and the thing to avoid is the panic of a helter-slelter rush for the tape in five years time.

And don’t spend money on consultants to do  the progress checking. There are good council staff qualified in Prince 2 project management methodology who are well able to do this.

For further information, go to the BID4OBAN website and please note that we have removed the BID4OBAN plan submitted to the council and which we published with this article, as it was not yet in final form.

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