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Wednesday 19th August 2015

This is the first part of an ongoing series analysing Altrincham’s Business Improvement District proposal. To read parts 2, 3 and 4, click here: Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.  


The Altrincham Business Improvement District

Today, I got  a letter  regarding Business Improvement District (BID) in Altrincham. For those who  don’t know or haven’t read this letter, a vote is happening where Altrincham’s businesses will vote Yes or No as to whether Alt should be a BID. If Yes, each business must pay an additional mandatory tax based on its business rates. Yes that’s right, the business rates that most business cannot afford to start with. This money is then held somewhere where “appointed representatives” decide how to spend it. For ourselves this is an extra £1700 over 5 years. I feel very strongly about this and would like to give my two pence since no one has asked for it thus far. This will be done over a few blog posts as there is fair bit of reading here. It’s mostly a long, ill-formatted, hastily drafted mind dump. It’s largely gut instinct and first response. I have not conversed with others or heard multiple sides of the story. I am happy to be proven wrong and am not precious about these first initial views. Excuse spelling, grammar and pretty much everything. I want to make it clear that I believe we should vote YES to Altrincham becoming a BID. If you want something done quick and well then get the private sector involved. I just don’t believe we should vote Yes to this BID. It needs to change and evolve based on the business make up of Altrincham. The current BID is more of a Retail Improvement District. Vote YES and get R.I.D. Vote for a change of policy and get a true reflective BID to help all – not just Boots and co.  

Background to my 2 pence.

The reason that I am not asked for my 2 penneth (I believe) is that I am a shadow. I’m an entity that Trafford Council would not recognise or support. I am a business person that employs 15 people over 2 companies and have never had any help from the council at all – in fact, our companies have  grown in spite of Trafford Council. No funds, no grants, no loans. When I orginally started my business 6 years ago, I was told that I could not get funding because I had a WA14 postcode. One of my competitors got a free website because she had a BD postcode. Go figure. WA14 location apparently meant that I should be able to afford it all myself. No quango has given me anything but they have all asked me for money in the past. I don’t get involved with the local chamber as I have no need for award ceremonies or Gordon Burns. I don’t advertise in their magazine where companies write advertorials about how good they are. I am reliably told that this makes you lots of money as many people choose their suppliers from the Chamber and the magazine. Move over Adwords. I don’t advertise in the Messenger or the Hale Handbook, or MEN, Yellow pages. I don’t even breakfast network as I don’t like the wizards hats, titles or having to refer business to people who have egg on their tie. I prefer to refer my contacts to companies best fit to do the job for them not someone I see every 2 weeks bleary eyed for 1 hour.  I don’t play golf either. With all this lack of investment into guaranteed money ROI spinners, it’s amazing that my company still exists. We are here though, we are growing, we occupy 2600 Square feet above the NatWest and you probably walk past us every day without even knowing it. We are a B2B company that works online and direct – successfully. We don’t limit ourselves to working locally so although we love to work with Altricham businesses, it doesn’t matter if our clients are based in Inverness, London or Exeter. Never once has a customer  chosen us because of how good or bad Altrincham town centre looks and feels – they don’t care. Our clients want good product and service at fair cost and that’s what we aim to deliver. So are we some kind of evil beast that doesn’t need to go to lunches and have canapes to win business? Is this why we are shunned by the Messenger and Gordon Burns?  No, we a friendly bunch who want people to find our business, use us and come back again because of the brilliant service. We make our own identity and brand and it’s not based on location. We’re friendly enough that we donate to the Altrincham Xmas lights fund and RT local businesses via social media channels where we can. So make no mistake, we love Altrincham and we want to see it flourish but we want that to be balanced and to benefit all. The closest analogy that I can think of for our type of business is ‘Dark Matter’. Science knows dark matter is there because it has to be due to the laws of physics but we don’t understand it and we cant see it. It makes up 90% of the universe. That’s a crucial point. It makes up a large, often unseen, unheard part of the universe. B2B or online companies are out there, unheard.  No shop fronts, occupying shady top floors and side entrances but we contribute so much in terms of rates, taxes and to the overall local economy.  

Back to the BID

The BID is chaired by a retailer based on the high street. In the vicinity of that shop are several empty units. We all know that Altrincham needs more shops or uses from those. I can imagine that those shops are unsightly to retailers and the councils customers (voters). Here are the tenets of what the BID is trying to achieve.

  1. Reduce number of empty shops
  2. Attracting more people to town centre
  3. Improving the look and feel of centre
  4. One co-ordinated voice for business
  5. Developing identity of Altrincham

Numbers 1 to 3 have a clear retail bias. Number 4 could benefit all business depending on the voice and message and the way that 5 is described is largely Retail and leisure focused. That’s 4 out 5 of the major policies set to benefit retail over and above other industries. Yet all industries will be made to contribute and pay the same. It’s a bit like policing and fire protection only for certain houses yet we all pay council tax.  

Has the BID become a RID then?

To an uneducated outsider, yes. Retail needs help so that’s actually great but there are many other industries who are equally struggling and need help. We need policies that help ALL and not just Retail and Leisure. I am led to believe that the BID is led by Altrincham Forward. On the home page of Altrincham Forward, there’s only information about Retail and Leisure in Altincham. It’s as if nothing else exists? As if companies like mine don’t exist. Bearing in mind that one the 5 tenets is based on Identity, this would seem odd. I agree with many of Altrincham Forward’s ideas and welcome improving Altrincham but there is no mention of Altrincham’s digital economy or dark matter on their website. On the projects page, I  found no details of any projects relating to B2B or online industries. If this picture of Altrincham is to be taken as read then can you imagine the hole in the local economy if all the accountants, solicitors, architects, marketing agencies, events companies, manufacturers, health and education sectors just disappeared overnight? The office space gap would be incredible and the economic downturn severe – no more office workers getting lunch in the Retail Sector, no more after work drinks, Pure Gym not expanding due to no office workers in area and so on. Surely, it’s worth Altrincham Forward saying hello and taking an interest? I do hope so, I would be delighted to meet the team and buy them a drink, find out more about what else is on the cards for this great town. http://www.altrinchamforward.com/welcome-to-altrincham.aspx  

Is a RID a good thing?

Yes – some of it certainly is. More shops and thriving retail/leisure attract people to the area for work and living. This will help school intakes and other consumer based intakes. It certainly should not be shunned. But it should represent no more than HALF of the BID. There is the B2B sector – the dark matter that is the fuel to the local engine. This is an area that the council seem to be weak in. Offering central government based initiatives such as Business Link are useless – they’re not tangible help, just theory. They are certainly not “£1700 of funding over 5 years” tangible.  

So how did we end up with a RID and not a BID?

It’s our own fault. Apparently surveys were sent out to all local business but I didn’t see them. I just hope they weren’t advertised in the Messenger or some other device. Frankly, nothing less than a call, an email and personally addressed letter should suffice for such an important area. Since researching this, I have found that Altrincham Forward created the BID proposal from 112 responses to a survey where 78% of respondents were retail or leisure. This now makes the proposal ideas making more sense. The retail bias is because only retail responded! I don’t know why more of the professional and business services didn’t respond to the survey. We do know however that 78% of the funding won’t come from retail or leisure as the local business make up is more diverse than that. See below for the BID research results. It seems as if the survey responses have placed a spin on things but they are genuine. Is there a chance to re-survey now that Business are aware there is a  genuine mandatory levy? The penetration of the survey was fantastically high into retail but crushingly low into office based service business. This can happen though – Look at how Jordan Henderson got voted onto the Fifa 16 box! Since Altrincham Forward seems to have a website with Retail and Leisure focus, one can only speculate that there were pleased with the retail response – it’s the green light required for all business to pay for high street improvements – if you vote YES for the RID. Company-type I have since found the survey by googling and took it yesterday. What is also vexing is that the survey questions are the policies that make up the RID. Let me explain. All of the below questions about what should make up the BID are ALL in the bid. So either everyone said they were all high priority (and it makes sense that they would if Retail/Leisure) or the manifesto ideas were nearly all pre-decided from some kind of initial research which I wasn’t included in – hopefully it’s just me that was missed out! As you can see from the below, they are the proposed projects yet I don’t recall ever being approached and asked what my challenges were. survey community                                                       None of the above questions reflect anything close to my business challenges – parking and rates aside. Some of these are so retail focused that if there reverse were true and it focused on B2B  or my business, I would be embarrassed. It would literally be questions around the pricing of marketing data and email marketing!!  

Summary

I am 100% behind helping Retail but if only Retail responded to the survey (and I don’t know how this survey was marketed) then possibly the results are not reflective of what all business in Altrincham needs and represents.  I am also a big believer in businesses making themselves the best they can be on their own through effective management and great choices. If the @MarketHouseAlty is such as roaring success then is it not because they have a product and service that the local and not so local population want? They are in central Altrincham yet try and get a table on Saturday at 8pm – long wait. They are doing things right.  If other restaurants are empty 100 yards away, is it my budget that should try and fill them up? I will not pass judgement, just merely pose the questions for people to consider. Personally, I would not expect any other local business to contribute to my success or failure, it’s my choices as owner of this business that will ultimately decide that. I would urge all business in the central Altrincham area to take this survey now: https://t.co/hegOZt8rad Tommorrow’s blog will go into more detail on what the true make up of Altrincham is in terms of business demographics – we are a data and customer creation company after all! There will then be a further blog dissecting in more detail the RID proposition and what I would like to see on behalf of B2B or ‘Dark Matter’ businesses for a revised BID. A true BID including Retail and Leisure is a fantastic and exciting opportunity for Altrincham – lets all grab it with both hands and make this happen for everyone. Back a BID. #VoteYes and #GetRID  


  This is the first part of an ongoing series analysing Altrincham’s Business Improvement District proposal. To read parts 2, 3 and 4, click here: Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

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