Mull says a big NO to BID

[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.”

And so

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.

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23 Responses to Mull says a big NO to BID

  1. 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.”

    A good definition of irony; the leader of a nascent marketing organisation that has failed to market itself successfully blames the potential customers. If it’s such a good idea it should be tried again, only a better job done of it.

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  2. Anyplace such as Mull, which is next to perhaps the most sacred Island in the British Isles & Ireland, should refrain from creating a business climate that is antithetical to the history of Iona. I have traveled through Mull several times by bicycle & by bus & plan to visit there in the near future. It would be unpleasant for any visitor who is there on pilgrimage to have to pass through an industrial park. Such business areas (BID)eventually become a blight, no matter what the promises of the business community are right now. Come to any Industrial Park in the U.S. & you will see the results for yourself. They provide disreputable sites, especially when located next to parks or nature preserves. In my area in the U.S. Acadia Park on the island of Mount Desert (about the size of Mull)promotes strict regulations concerning business enterprises. As a result businesses tend to set up shop off the island so as not to encroach on the lakes & trails & seashore that make Acadia Park among the most visited national parks in America.

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  3. It’s a pity that those proposing the BID were not able to convince more folks of its potential. Mainly because of the mis-understanding and mis-representation of what was proposed. The comment above and the news item demonstrate this. MIBID was never about developing a business park or making unsuitable physical changes to the island. It was about promoting Mull and Iona as tourist destinations, encouraging more people to visit, and to turn-around the declining visitor numbers that our unfair ferry fares are causing. ALL businesses would have benefited from that. True, the way in which the legislation decided who should pay the levy was often unfair, but the proposers tried to mitigate against that, and there would have been plenty opportunity for others to contribute voluntarily. The potential benefits outweighed the pitfalls. Most disturbingly, many of the no campaigners resorted to personal insults, pompous diatribe and on a few occasions threats. It was this atmosphere that also contributed to many votes against – many just wanted the community rift to stop, despite being in support.

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    • The comment to which you refer and the news item above are two entirely separate items and are saying two very different things.
      It is misleading to suggest that we have ever described anything remotely resembling a business park in Mull as a result of the proposed MI BID.
      BIDs themselves are not about business parks – they are essentially about the upgrading and regeneration of the normal retail business areas of neglected urban areas.

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      • Your main argument as far as I read it, is that Mull’s businesses are too dispersed to benefit from a ‘development program’. That infers that the ‘development’ has some geographic focus other than the island as a whole. The MIBID was neither primarily a ‘development’ (which infers building and physical change) nor did it have a focus any narrower than the islands as a whole. Its primary aim was to jointly MARKET Mull and iona, not to DEVELOP it. ALL island businesses, no matter how dispersed, would have benfited as a result. Your criticism displays a misunderstanding of what BID was about. And the comment above from Hugh Curran directly speaks of buidling industrial parks, which plainly the BID was not about. Such mis-understanding and mis-representation characterised the wider criticism of the BID.

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        • We are not responsible for readers’ comments – they are free to say what they think and see – and others add information or challenge.
          BIDs are ‘Business Improvement Districts’.
          If the MI BID was exclusively focused on a marketing plan for Mull and its satellite fleet of islands, that was not made clear in a fairly generalist proposal; nor did it carry any strategic marketing plan. Marketing is not a matter of simply chucking stuff out there in the various media.
          A psychological difficulty in BIDs, even in defined urban areas, is that every business paying a compulsory levy wants to see a direct benefit to their own business.
          This is almost impossible to achieve, even in a town.
          In a sprawling area, with its island and with a dispersed business population, it is hard to conceive of any BID which could persuade the majority that there was something in it for them. The BID template really does not fit the sort of area lassooed into the MI BID.
          The first problem was the inability to recognise this – one size never fits all; and the consequent problem was the lack of a plausible business case to achieve benefits from the proposal that could be territory-wide.

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        • BIDer, Mull and Iona are already jointly marketed. It’s called Holiday Mull & Iona and they have been in existence for many years and do a grand job with proven results! Google them to find their website address and you will see what I mean. The members pay a voluntary subscription each year unlike the BID which would have been a compulsory levy for five years. You have no evidence to prove that ALL island businesses would benefit no matter how dispersed they are around the islands and in these difficult economic times small business owners want proof and assurances that their money will be well spent and they will see a return on their investments. The BID clearly failed to deliver on their proposed plan so why should the electorate believe they would deliver on their hard earned investment? The responsibility for any misunderstanding or misrepresentation about the BID lies squarely at the feet of the BID group who it would seem couldn’t explain the benefits of the BID even after spending £38,000 of tax payers money on it and after nearly 2 years in the planning. It took the voters just 6 weeks to make up their minds that they were being sold a whole load of tosh!

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    • To BIDer:

      1) Mull and Iona are already well marketed as a holiday destination and there is no point inviting more tourists to the islands until such time as the problems identified by residents and visitors alike are sorted out – the roads and other services etc. And a BID no matter how well-intentioned would not address these problems!
      2)The ferry prices to Mull are pretty competitive against all the other ferry runs and the reason why numbers are dropping (slightly mind, not significantly as we were led to believe)is because there happens to be a recession. All the runs in the Calmac fleet show a decline even those with RET. There is no way of telling which businesses would benefit from reduced ferry fares other than Calmac itself!
      3) How did the proposers try to mitigate against the unfairness of the levy? They won’t even explain how they decided the levy was set. Some businesses were paying only 1% or so of their RV while others were paying a whacking great 28%. There was no transparency about how the levy was calculated or set.
      4) The pitfalls were blindingly obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense – the perceived benefits were only loosely potential and greatly exaggerated without any substantive evidence to back up the claims or the so-called business plan. Hence a resounding NO vote at the ballot box.
      5) You state “Most disturbingly, many of the no campaigners resorted to personal insults, pompous diatribe and on a few occasions threats. It was this atmosphere that also contributed to many votes against – many just wanted the community rift to stop, despite being in support” – please where is your evidence for such serious accusations? These are wide sweeping allegations you are making and to date have not been substantiated in any way.

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  4. I didn’t claim that you had any influence over the Hugh Curran’s comment – I think you are deliberately picking the stick up at the wrong end there. I just said you were both wrong in some respect. You both suggested ‘development’, when that is not what the BID was about.

    And fair enough, the business plan that MIBID presented could have been better – but such is often the way when a document is constructed by committee, trying to please all interests.
    But those who had taken the time to understand the BID, knew that its primary aim was to MARKET, not to DEVELOP. As you quote, it is a business IMPROVEMENT district, not a business DEVELOPMENT district.

    One size rarely fits all, quite right. But I’d rather have a slightly ill-fitting rain coat when it rains, rather than no rain coat at all.

    The dispersed nature of Mull businesses or their rural location has absolutely nothing to do with the possible success or otherwise of the BID. The most important common factor that the vast majority of Mull business have is their focus on Tourism. It is the business SECTOR they are in that was the common factor in this BID, not their business location. Other than simply asserting that ‘mull businesses are too dispersed’ to be suitable for a BID, I haven’t yet heard an argument to explain why.
    Your sentence “In a sprawling area, with its island and with a dispersed business population, it is hard to conceive of any BID which could persuade the majority that there was something in it for them. The BID template really does not fit the sort of area lassooed into the MI BID.” is just an assertion, without any reasoned argument. Why not? Why does the density at which the businesses are dispersed across the island have anything to do with the relative benefit they might receive from the BID?
    And by the way – many of those who voted yes did not see a great direct benefit for their business, but were in favour because of the more general community-wide benefits of the scheme. Many were happy to put their money in for the common good, rather than personal benefit. On the contrary, many (but not all) of the ‘no’ arguments were based entirely on self-interest.

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    • BIDer your final comments here only confirm how completely delusional you are!

      229 voters clearly preferred no rain coat than an ill-fitting one especially when it was going to cost them lots and lots of money with no guarantee that it was even going to keep them dry! At least with the money they have saved from the BID they can now go looking for their own rain coat and make sure it does fit and it does keep them dry.

      And yes t was because of self-interest I voted NO. Businesses are run to make money and a profit; most of the businesses on Mull are small life-style businesses, they are not charities and they do not exist to subsidise failing businesses or other charitable organisations. The owners work hard to earn an income in order to live, pay their bills and provide a home for themselves and their families. With what money or profit they make they can then choose to donate, sponsor or support good causes of their own choosing – when they like and with as much money as they like. And many businesses do just that – you only need to look around the islands to see the good work done and supported by charitable donations from hard working folk. They do it from the generosity of free will and democracy and not from a compulsory tax voted in by their business neighbours.

      The BID was ill-conceived, poorly thought out and presented, and the completely wrong vehicle for these islands. The ballot result is a resounding NO with an historic 81% voter turnout. It has been put to bed permanently by the people of these islands and you now need to move on and accept defeat gracefully.

      And please stop casting aspersions on the good names and reputations of people who have voted NO.

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    • “entirely on self-interest.” Of course they where, no business is run like a charity so why should someone else’s successful business prop up another failing business? A lot of Mull business scrapes by and makes a decent living for the families involved. Many would have suffered from the forced addition of this un-necessary financial burden if the YES campaign had succeeded.

      Nobody advertises or sells Mull like the Island does itself!

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  5. No business should prop up another. But it should think about the community in which it operates. Buy as much as it can locally, and keep as much money in the local economy as possible. So for most mull businesses that get 100% rates relief, why not spend a much smaller amount on BID and have that money do something useful for the benefit of the local community? That’s not charity, it’s common sense.
    But we’ve missed the chance now.

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  6. Muileach
    1) holiday mull does a pretty mediocre job. A lot more could be done. There is plenty of scope for increasing visitor numbers to mull in the shoulder seasons when there is capacity, without any impact on roads, ferries or anything else. That’s exactly what the bid proposed.
    2) ferry carryings are down on the mull route, and up on many others with ret. Mulls ferry fares are disproportionately higher than most other islands and we are suffering as a result. Calmac would not benefit from reduced fares. It makes no difference to them – any shortfall would be met by gov subsidy.
    3) the levy was obviously the most contentious element if the bid. Businesses that were not directly tourist dependent were to receive a 50% discount.
    I agree, it was too high at he upper end. But the absolute level of the fee was perfectly affordable for most businesses, at around £5 a week I think. If your business can’t afford that sum, even if you think the benefits are doubtful, then there’s not much anyone can do for your business, let alone the bid.
    4) the main pitfall was the inequity of the levy in some unavoidable circumstances such as businesses run from home. But this was in my opinion pretty minor. Evidence? Bit difficult to produce evidence of the efficacy of a scheme that hadn’t had a chance to do anything. Yes, the business plan was weak, but as was said at the public meetings, this could have been changed by the board that was to have been elected by all.
    5) you only need read through the bid Facebook page to see the type of negative and personal comment made. I haven’t cast aspersions on anyone in particular or generally – I named no one. I just lamented the tone of the debate. Which from some quarters was less than courteous.

    Yep, we lost. A pity, and I accept a very strong vote against. The purpose of my comments were to correct mis-representation of the motives and methods of the yes campaign, who embarked on this thing for entirely unselfish reasons. They may have done a bad job of selling the bid, but their motives and objectives deserve defence.

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  7. Easdale, Mull, Dunoon, Oban, Campbeltown – what is it about these places? Hardly any population but quite happy to be at each others throats in a nano-second over an issue.

    Any issue.

    Nae wonder the Clans lost the ’45…

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  8. One last thing. January jones says I’m casting aspersions about the ‘no’ voters, when I have made absolutely no personal comments – I’ve just argued the points. ( As well as accepting where there were clear failings in the yes argument) The only personal comment has come from you, when you call me ‘ completely delusional’ . That only confirms my point about the level of debate.

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    • Casting aspersions = (a) An unfavorable or damaging remark; slander. (b) The act of defaming or slandering. This is in relation to your statement “Most disturbingly, many of the no campaigners resorted to personal insults, pompous diatribe and on a few occasions threats. It was this atmosphere that also contributed to many votes against – many just wanted the community rift to stop, despite being in support.” This can’t get any more personal but sadly you have made these sweeping statements without any substantive evidence and choose to remain anonymous hidden behind the moniker of BIDer.

      Delusional = A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.

      I rest my case.

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      • Can’t get any more personal? Have I named a person? No. Have I even suggested, or hinted at a person? No. Have I drawn a picture of a person? No. Made a noise like a particular person? No. Put on a hat to make me look like a particular person? No. Done a funny walk and put on a false moustache to make me look like a particular person? No.
        Lighten up. I made absolutely no personal comment. I said ‘many of the no campaigners’. Unless I have unwittingly identified a ‘Mr or Mrs Many’? In which case I apologise.
        I referred earlier to the BID Facebook page, which is where a lot of the personal comment I was talking about came from. Have a look at it. It’s quite clear.
        Being anonymous is quite helpful. It allows a freedom of speech that you could not otherwise have, particularly in a small community. And particularly when the subject is as touchy as this one. I don’t think this site would have half the traffic if it didn’t allow anonymous posting. And anyway, were you christened January Jones?

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  9. As an outsider looking in – the opportunity to develop effective business communication to support and extend Mull & Iona’s cohesion and opportunity in developing as an Island in competition with others IS needed (in my opinion).

    Business Parks (did you read the plan?) is scaremongering and misdirection. From my discussions on Mull the clarity in developing the BID’s business plan basically fell short of what it could/should have been. It was ill conceived (perhaps by some who sought a shortcut to sustain their roles/status) and contained linerar and legacy concepts.

    At the head of this piece a figure of £655k is mentioned. Speaking from the professional position of generating large scale funding development – nothing is guaranteed, an income may be generated on performance against agreed outputs and outcomes. If the development schedule is not maintained then the funding disappears into thin air.

    Stop BICKERING and focus your attention to getting the RET sorted out once and for all; ensuring High Speed Internet connections facilitate access to/from M&I’s communities; work together to extend the trading season; and use Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty to your advantage.

    btw – why is M&I represented by am MSP who lives about as far away from the Islands as possible !!??

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  10. Pingback: Businesses on Mull, Iona and Ulva reject business improvement district | Against Business Improvement Districts

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