London business districts do much good for the capital – raising capital through the business levy, and creating greener and safer areas. We must unleash their full potential, writes Ruth Duston
Over the last few years, London has been hit by unprecedented challenges, from Brexit and the pandemic to the increasingly worrying effects of climate change and the cost-of-living crisis. London is obviously not alone in struggling, but its international nature means the effects have been felt even more keenly here.
Institutions and businesses have come up with different strategies to tackle these issues, and business improvement districts have helped wherever they could. As the channel between public and private sectors, and thanks to the business levy they collect, they can deliver tangible actions to support innovation and sustain businesses. But their full potential has yet to be seized.
Over the last 20 years, since the business improvement district legislation was put in place, the UK has gone from zero to more than 330 districts, contributing over £150m every year to their local communities and representing nearly 120,000 businesses across the country. In London alone, there are 74 of them generating £60m of levy income which is re-invested locally, creating greener and safer areas.
As the capital’s business improvement districts meet today for the annual London BIDs Summit, they’ll show once again what a force for good they are in the capital. For businesses, they represent the opportunity to get their voice heard by local, regional and national government, and to ensure their local priorities are acted on. For the public sector, they facilitate dialogue with businesses, and allow neighbourhoods to directly benefit from the millions of pounds generated in levy collection from their local businesses.
Over the last few months, London has welcomed new public spaces which the districts have been instrumental in delivering. Princes Circus in Holborn and Strand/Aldwych in Westminster, which jointly received over £4m of investment from the Central District Alliance and The Northbank BID respectively, are only two of many. These projects have a tangible impact on their local areas, giving priority back to pedestrians and improving local air quality, with Strand/Aldwych’s rush hour pollution decreasing by 50 per cent. The public realm vision recently published by the Whitehall BID would deliver equally meaningful changes, turning Parliament Square, Whitehall and Victoria Embankment into people-friendly areas.
Business improvement districts can also deliver enlivenment programmes, working with London’s local authorities on exciting projects which support their destination marketing activities for visitors from the UK and abroad. The five City of London districts, for instance, work closely with the City of London Corporation to support “Destination City”, its leisure and cultural initiative, as well as delivering their own programme of activities which support the City’s ambition to become a world-leading leisure destination and help drive increased footfall and spend.
But there is more that business improvement districts can deliver. In central London in particular, they have the power to do things that have an impact nationally, and positively shape the country’s reputation internationally. By acting at a hyper-local level, business improvement districts have an influence on our capital’s attractiveness for foreign direct investment and business in general, including domestic and international tourism, even helping to attract more international students. This benefits London directly; but when our capital thrives, so does the whole country.
With financially challenging times ahead, a mayoral election and a general election on the horizon, local and national governments should now engage even more closely with business improvement districts and work together to kickstart London’s growth, and support our whole country’s recovery.