Vote of confidence for BID

THE Ipswich Central Business Improvement District has received a vote of confidence from independent auditors following its launch six months ago.

THE Ipswich Central Business Improvement District has received a vote of confidence from independent auditors following its launch six months ago.

The town centre Business Improvement District, which was approved through a ballot of business ratepayers last year and become operational this April, is the first BID in the country to invite an independent consultant to track its progress, rather than publish its own performance figures.

The job has gone to New Horizons, whose director, Chris Hollins, also advised the Ipswich BID team in formulating and promoting its proposals ahead of last year's vote.

“This approach is totally unique in the UK, where there are now some 51 BIDs in place,” says Mr Hollins in his foreword to the first six-monthly review. “All of them commit to Key Performance Indicators and most try to keep their sponsoring businesses up to date with their activities.

“However, none so far has taken the radical step of employing external independent expertise to scrutinise their work constantly, constructively criticise and keep up the pressure to do more, better, faster and with greater effort.”

The audit, which will continue to be conducted every six months, reviews the success of the BID under five different headings, with each being measured for effectiveness, impact, quality and value for money.

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It receives 16 stars out of a possible 20 in the area of safety and security, having exceeded its targets for introducing Street Rangers (five rather than the planned four, at no extra cost) and switching the Radiolink service (which enables the rangers, store detectives and police to share information) to digital.

The extension of the existing “banned from one, banned from all” Exclusion Order system to cover all businesses in the town, rather than just the retail sector, is also on track to be completed by the end of year one.

A score of 15 stars is awarded for work to improve the look and feel of the town centre area, including flower planters during the summer months, the introduction of a new map and the first in a series of customer service training courses, which was fully subscribed.

The BID receives 13 stars for cleaning and maintenance work, with the rangers having removed more than 12,000 items of litter while 82 examples of graffiti having been removed and 26 “grot spots” steam-cleaned by the new cleaning team.

A total of 13 stars is also awarded for the BID's branding and promotional campaigns, including its website (interlinked with the tourism-focused Visit Ipswich site) and media advertising and PR campaigns, backed by monthly e-newsletters for its stakeholders.

The lowest score received is 10 stars for efforts to attract additional shoppers to the town, which have included free Sunday car parking and park and ride promotions.

The report suggests the free parking scheme should be extended to include additional car parks while the park and wide promotion could include free “sampler” tickets issued to visitors who have driven into town, to encourage them to use the service on their next visit.

Overall, the scores represent an average of 13 stars out of 20, and in his conclusion to the first audit, Mr Hollins describes the performance as “impressive”, with the additional services having been “well managed and delivered with quality”.

However, he adds: “Despite the brisk start reported here, it is right that a sense of perspective is retained to ensure that overall expectations are contained within the bounds of realism.

“This report highlights the first six months of a five-year (minimum) campaign to raise the success and profitability of Ipswich businesses. Inevitably it is going to be a 'marathon' rather than a 'sprin' and all must guard against complacency, ractivity and instant quick fixes.”