[Updated below} The ballots for the proposed Mull Business Improvement District [BID] were counted yesterday morning [22nd March] – and our broadband outage made us made to bring you the news earlier than this.
The result from the island is an unequivocal NO – by 63% to 37%.
363 votes were cast – from the business community as this is a business-related issue – with:
- Total for the BID: 134 votes YES (36.95%)
- Total against the BID: 229 votes NO (63.08%)
The statistics showed that a greater percentage of the higher rated businesses voted FOR the BID.
- Aggregate Rateable Value: £1,934,440
- Aggregate RV For the BID: £859,075
- Aggregate RV Against: £729,370
The turnout was:
- 82% of the rateable value of eligible voters;
- 81% of the persons eligible to vote on behalf of the businesses concerned.
This result is a victory for common sense against the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy.
In every way the BID formula does not fit an area like Mull, Iona and Ulva -three islands, one a mighty landscape with a dispersed population; one of celebrated religious sanctuary; and one with a history of clearances.
BIDs were conceived of as an urban enabler of regeneration, where businesses within a defined area of or within a town contribute by legally required levy to a common fund for regeneration of their shared business district.
In this case all levy payers can see the immediate improvements commissioned from the levy fund and can, at least theoretically, benefit from the potential for an enhanced retail and services footfall.
But in the case of a relatively vast territory like Mull, Iona and Ulva, three separate islands with a broadcast territorial dispersal of businesses, with the majority of those businesses being accommodation providers in properties sited in beautiful and remote places – the majority of businesses which would have been levied would have seen and felt no real benefit from the proposal.
And all of such schemes use their funds first, as they must, to pay administrators – so much of the levy fund is not directly productive in business improvement.
Moreover, in this case, the proposed development programme simply could not have been affordably staffed to the level necessary to deliver it successfully.
Mull is an energetic and determined island with superb natural resources for wildlife and activity tourism of all kinds, with the spiritual magnet of Iona off its western shore; and with a wide ranging menu of events to entertain residents and attract visitors.
Mull is building its own economic development and will have more scope to do so, not less, without the ill-fitting straight jacket of a BID.
The NO Confidence campaign, whose members fought hard and resourcefully to convince local businesses of the misfit of the bid to the islands, are vindicated by this result.
They were vilified for their stance – and no doubt they returned the insults with interest – but this conflicted scenario was unhelpful. It is to the NO campaigners credit that they toughed it out and kept insisting on answers to questions that proved incapable of being satisfactorily answered.
Sympathy for the proposers of the BID
This clarity of this result is a blow for the MI BID [Mull and Iona}, who have also worked tirelessly in promoting their proposal.
It is understandable that the YES campaigners are characterising the result as a missed 'opportunity' for Mull, Iona and Ulva - although this is not, economically, a sustainable argument.
The YES campaign - the proposers - have the comfort of seeing the larger proportion of the total rateable value of businesses in the BID area vote YES. The figures given for this aspect of the result are above and show that 44.4% of the total rateable value of eligible businesses voted YES, with 37.7% voting NO.
It is understandable that major businesses would support such a proposal, being major levy payers and more likely to operate in a part of the island where visitor footfall would reward investment in improvements.
It may be that these businesses now agree to work together to develop the physical context of their joint business interests.
The MI BID proposers have issued the following statement on the result of the ballot.
The MI BID statement
Businesses on Mull, Iona and Ulva have turned down the chance to create a Business Improvement District (BID) on the islands.
The news was a major blow for those who had championed the idea and who had worked together for well over a year to bring it to fruition.
A confidential ballot of all eligible businesses within the proposed BID zone – encompassing Mull, Iona, Ulva, Gometra, Erraid, Calve, Staffa and the Treshnish Islands - ended at 5pm yesterday (Thursday, March 21).
The results show that 81% of those balloted responded. Of those, 37% voted in favour of the proposal and 63% against, with 2 ballot cards being spoiled.
'Neil Hutton, who chaired the BID steering group, said it was a ‘sad day’ for the islands: “I am deeply disappointed that despite all the obvious benefits a BID would bring to our community, not enough of our local businesses supported it.
"This was an opportunity to create Scotland’s first island BID, its first rural BID and its first tourism-focused BID. The project would have been a trailblazer in all sorts of ways, and I’m certain would have proven a key contributor in promoting and developing our visitor economy over the next few years."
Richard Nealon vice chair of the steering group added: "We have turned down the chance for our businesses to work together to ensure we cement our status as the best holiday destination in Scotland. We have turned our backs on a minimum of £655,000 being pumped into improving the local trading environment – partly through a modest Levy Investment from eligible businesses.
"The Steering Group is obviously dismayed that some of those businesses could not see the benefits in taking a lead in ensuring a more prosperous future for our islands by working together and collectively investing in improvements.
“BIDS are fast becoming a key tool to improving local economies across Scotland, with 20 other locations – including Oban and Dunoon – already up and running.
“It’s a sad day for Mull and Iona that we are not going to join them. What we now need to do is take the appetite for collaboration which has become evident over the last few months among a large number of our businesses and see how it can be developed.”
The MI BID supporters need to understand that the urban centres of Oban and Dunoon are not remotely comparable subjects for a BID with Argyll's biggest island and its fleet of satellite islands - all of whose businesses would have paid the compulsory levy and most of which could not physically have seen any local benefit.
The 2001 census showed Mull with a population of 2,667, with around 25% in the main [and unforgettably picturesque] town of Tobermory – and 75% dispersed aongst the other very small towns and the many tiny townships and glens – a territory of 875.35 square kilometres.
The same census showed the compact town of Oban with a population of 8,120; and Dunoon with a population of 8,251.
The key response now is to reap the benefit of the lively and invigorated campaign that has so galvanised the Isle of Mull.
It would be foolish for both ‘sides’ – each committed to the economic development of Mull and of its satellite islands, to waste the opportunity that now exists to come up with plans to move that development forwards organically and appropriately.
This is an occasion when a NO to one course of action an lead to a YES to another.