Roddy Smith: Let’s build on our BID’s successes

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh
Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh
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Edinburgh’s city centre Business Improvement District has enjoyed very significant investment over the past five years. During that period, the businesses at the heart of the Capital have invested more than £1 million a year of their own money in carrying out a variety of services and events – from cleaning up chewing gum to financially backing Edinburgh’s Christmas – and all to improve living, working and visiting our city.

Essential Edinburgh manages the Business Improvement District, or BID, on behalf of our member businesses, all 560 of them, each of them contributing an additional sum on top of their business rates. And that, in turn, has translated into some real successes and accomplishments.

For example, during the past five years footfall in the city centre has led the UK average by more than 5.2 per cent – smashing the target set for us of two per cent. That translates into a lot of people, and all of those people bring extra spending and opportunities, in turn creating jobs and wealth. For example, we lead the UK’s retail sales over the period by more than 2.2 per cent, and the Scottish average by 11.5 per cent. Hospitality is also performing well, up 13 per cent in the past three years.

An imaginative platform of events – from the hugely successful Farmers Market through to Film Fest in the City – have contributed significantly with more than £23.7m of economic benefit, and that represents a huge return on a relatively modest outlay. We also support other, major events, including Light Night, Edinburgh’s Christmas, and many of Edinburgh’s festivals, and we continue to look at how our public spaces can be used appropriately and creatively to enhance the lives of those who live, work and play in the city centre.

But it’s not all about driving footfall and business success. It’s also about the kind of city centre we want to enjoy. In this regard too, the BID has made a big contribution.

Our Clean Team provides businesses with a fast-response service that is additional to the statutory cleansing service provided by City of Edinburgh Council, and they’ve collected more than 14,000 bags of waste from our city centre streets every year, and cleaning up gum that would cover an area of pavement that’s equivalent to nine football pitches. They’ve removed hazardous waste, and the net result of their diligent labours is that the city centre has achieved accolades for its cleanliness, and 80 per cent of visitors to the city centre say it is cleaner than the rest of the Capital.

We’ve also worked in partnership with Police Scotland and others to launch a number of initiatives designed to make our city centre not just feel safer, but actually be safer.

Police Scotland figures show that recorded crime in the city centre, taken over a five-year average, is down 7.9 per cent. Our Check Out anti-retail crime initiative, delivering and sharing real-time information, has seen organised shoplifting plummet, and our Check In project is tackling hotel fraudsters. Our weekend taxi marshalls have helped send more than 100,000 safely home, and the CCTV cameras we help fund play an important part in deterring, detecting and resolving crime.

All of this work means that 89 per cent of those who took part in the Edinburgh Visitor Survey felt safer in the city centre than elsewhere, up from 73 per cent in 2012. We’re now working with a dedicated BID cop to further improve the protection and safety of those who live, work and visit the area. We’ve played our part in promoting the city too, as one of the key funders of the This Is Edinburgh two-year marketing campaign which delivered £50m economic benefit.

A BID sees businesses play a real, prominent role in their city centre, investing their own cash to deliver extra services, events and benefits. As we move towards our next five-year term we must build on these successes as well as initiate new projects and partnerships so we evolve just as our city centre is doing.

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh