Jeanette Darby, commercial property partner with Bevan Ashford, says BIDS could work over here
There have been a number of highly successful American imports into the UK; LA Law, Friends and Starbucks to name but three.
So it comes as no surprise that Tony Blair has personally promoted the introduction of another American concept, Business Improvement Districts (BIDS), into the UK.
BIDS have been successful in the US, resulting in the significant regeneration of parts of New York City, including Harlem and Times Square, and according to Jeanette Darby, commercial property partner with Bevan Ashford, they could work over here.
A BID is a partnership arrangement by which councils and local businesses can work together to solve problems in their particular area by providing additional services to those already provided by councils.
These could include more frequent policing and installation of CCTV cameras, measures such as rapid response to remove graffiti and litter, investment in the visual appearance of an area, such as planting trees, or even providing local training and employment schemes.
Jeanette is certain that BIDs will happen over here.
"The legislation to allow the introduction of BIDs is included in the Local Government Bill and, subject to parliamentary approval, BIDs will be able to operate from around April 2004," she says.
"There will be a contract between local authorities and local businesses for additional services or improvements, funded by a levy raised through an additional rate and collected by the local authority.
"This levy will differ from the uniform business rate as the money will be paid to a specially formed BID vehicle and can only be used for the delivery of suitable projects. Unlike the business rate, it will not be passed back to central government."
So how will a BID be created? Firstly, business ratepayers in the district must vote in its favour. Secondly, those voting in favour must represent a majority by rateable value of the rateable properties of those voting. This dual-key mechanism means that a scheme cannot be forced through by large firms against the wishes of small firms or vice versa.
Once established, a BID would last for a maximum of five years, but with a further ballot possible to continue the BID by any number of five year periods.
Local authorities should be aiming to have proposals worked out and partnerships formed so that a vote could be taken as soon as legislation is in place.
Schemes of a similar nature are already in place in the Midlands, particularly in retail developments. In many of the large privately-owned shopping centres, and those where partnerships already exist, for example Birmingham's new Bullring, occupiers will contribute to improvements by way of service charges and other contractual arrangements.
The Birmingham Alliance, developer of the Bullring, is keen to become involved in the community so that the Bullring will be much more than just a shopping centre.
The alliance is responsible for the Rotunda onefive, initiative which provides a free education resource to schools and colleges in the area. However, the advantage of a BID is that it will bring together a mix of businesses - not just retailers - to benefit a wider area. So who will ultimately foot the bill? There has been some criticism that the government is using local businesses to fund services and improvements that they should provide.
Jeanette Darby is optimistic that the BID scheme will work. She explains: "It is clear that the creation of a BID will enable finance to be raised for improvements to services that could not otherwise be funded."
Judging by the success of the American BIDs where they have transformed many commercial centres, whatever their shortcomings they can only be seen as a good thing for the UK.
Bullring developer the Birmingham Alliance is keen to become involved in the community
The creation of a BID will enable finance to be raised for improvements to services that could not otherwise be funded.