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Business Improvement Districts

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation on Business Improvement Districts in Scotland

October 2003

Executive Summary

  • UNISON wants to see the return of the powers to set non domestic rates to local government. We believe this is a more democratic, fair and transparent way of involving business in partnership work with local governments to improve our communities.
  • Given BIDs are being encouraged in Scotland, UNISON believes legislation should ensure fair, accountable and transparent operations of any BID, with a clear leadership role for local authorities, given their democratic status.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Executive's consultation on Business Improvement Districts. UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing 150,000 members working in the public sector. Over 100,000 of our members work in Scottish local government and voluntary organisations providing a range of services. Our members are providers and users of local authority services, and are participants in the democratic process.

UNISON has participated in a range of previous Scottish Executive and Parliamentary consultations and discussion on improving local services and developing responsive local government. In all of our submissions we are clear that public services should be provided in an open, accessible and transparent basis, and should be democratically accountable, and responsive to the needs of the communities they serve. We believe these principles are essential to modernise and reform public services.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Executive's consultation on Business Improvement Districts.


General Comments

UNISON Scotland believes that the best way to involve the business community in improving communities and in working with local authorities is to return the powers to set local business rates to local authorities. Local businesses should have a stake in local communities and services, and the most transparent and democratic means to do this is to enable local authorities to set business rates. UNISON has consistently argued for the return of non-domestic rates to the control of local authorities. We believe this is a positive way to revitalise local government finance, enable local authorities to have greater control over the finances they are able to raise, and to give local businesses a stake in the communities in which they are based.

Returning non domestic rate setting and collection to local government has the necessary checks and balances to ensure that those who should pay do so, and that those making the decisions on how to spend the rates are accountable to all stakeholders. They also enable local authorities to be ambitious in their plans for communities, rather than just providing basic local authority services. With the advent of the Power to Advance Well Being, and the drive to Community Planning, local authorities are able to make use of greater powers, and to work with other stakeholders, such as the community and voluntary sector, trade unions and businesses to improve services for local people.

UNISON is concerned that the proposals for Business Improvement Districts will potentially divide communities and create greater social exclusion, rather that promoting communities and social inclusion. Businesses will only be interested in developing a BID in an area which is attractive, successful and worthwhile investing in. In the more run down, deprived areas the private sector will see no interest in investing and working with what little community structure exists.

UNISON believes that we should move away from this piece meal approach to community development, and focus on the existing democratic, transparent and representative structures we have to build and develop our communities.


Question 1

Given the Scottish Executive's enthusiasm for the BIDs proposals despite our reservations over non-domestic rates and new Community Planning opportunities, UNISON believes that BIDs legislation should allow for fair and transparent operations of any BID. Legislation needs safeguards as to the democratic structure of the BID to ensure that a business can't simply take over and impose a BID project on others. The Local Authority, as a democratically elected body, should play a leading role in the BID, and act to safeguard and promote the interests of the local community.

Question 2

UNISON is concerned with the current proposals for voting. The voting system arguably favours big business, given larger businesses are likely to have higher rateable values, therefore can dominate both the voting criteria. The threshold of having at least 50 per cent of non-domestic rate payers who vote, contrasts with, for example, the system set up for employees wanting their employer to recognise a trade union. To gain automatic recognition a trade union has to demonstrate that it has in membership over 50% of the total bargaining unit. If it cannot do this then a recognition ballot is held where 40 per cent of the total workforce, not just those who actually cast a vote, must agree to union recognition. In the BID proposals only a minority of rate payers could participate in the vote, but as long as the majority of them support the BID it would be approved. It therefore seems as if there is one rule for business and a different rule for workers.

Question 3

We do think that a minimum percentage of businesses should have to vote for the vote to be valid to ensure maximum representation. We are also interested to know how businesses decide how they will cast their vote. For example do they take into account the views of their employees, shareholders, owner or customers? Clearly the Executive is not able to determine how businesses decide to vote, but this is an issue which should be considered.

Question 4

UNISON believes that there should be a minimum level of support in the BID area, and that the local authority should be supporting the initiative before any vote goes ahead. This will help to ensure that resources are not wasted on the voting process. It is important the local authority is on board with the BID to give some democratic legitimacy to the initiative.

Question 5

UNISON agrees that the maximum number of years for a BID mandate should be five years. Five years gives BIDs the same time scales as local councils, and allows for sufficient time to develop and implement a project.

Question 6

We agree that a local authority should have the right to veto a BID scheme if they consider it is not in the interests of the local community and economy. In our response to question 4 we suggest that the vote for the BID should not go ahead unless the local authority is supportive.

Question 7

BIDs impact on specific local areas and it is appropriate that the decisions to go ahead with BIDs are made by the local authority. UNISON believes that local authorities, as the elected bodies for a specific area should have the right to veto a BID.

Question 8

Occupiers and owners should be encouraged to participate in the BID. However, we appreciate the fact that in some respects owners and occupiers will benefit if the BID successfully improves the area, but may feel they are losing if this increases the rateable value of the property or increases their property's financial burden in some way. This is one of the dilemmas which would not arise if the Scottish Executive simply decided to return non-domestic rate collection to local authorities, and local authorities were able to take decisions in the interests of all of the community, accountable to the people at council elections.

Question 9

As we've stated above we believe the return of non-domestic rates to local authorities is preferable to the introduction of BIDs. This would also assist rural areas allowing local authorities to vary business rates to attract new companies, and have a greater say in how such rates are to be allocated.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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