Big city BIDs and their role in regional economies

Source: Office for National Statistics

by Prof Cathy Parker

I was recently invited to give a keynote speech at the Annual General Meeting of Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID) which is a business-led, not-for-profit, non political organisation that networks over nearly 1,000 business and organisations and raises over £2.4m per year of additional income to invest in the city. And Leeds is doing very well. Footfall is up, investment is up, the local economy is buoyant.

But cities have always been agglomerators of key industries, infrastructure and jobs. They accommodate important services and facilities in a spatially-efficient manner.  Not every town or city can have its own banking sector or its own airport etc. It makes sense to strengthen our cities because they need to serve a wide geographical catchment. 

But this does not mean that every job, every shop, every cultural institution, every opportunity has to be located in our cities. The travel to work datacompiled by the Office for National Statistics show that the economies of our major cities like Leeds are heavily dependent on workers from surrounding towns. However, when these people return home they are often poorly served; they face town centers in decline, poor public transport with limited accessibility to other towns, austerity cuts that have closed down important cultural and community institutions. And this is on top of the inconvenience that they have to commute to gain employment in the first place.

In the same way trickle-down economics didn’t work, what I am coining, ‘trickle-out‘ economics don’t work either.

With trickle-down economics benefits for the wealthy were supposed to trickle down to everyone else. Rising income inequality in the North West (an increase in absolute poverty) shatters that myth. Likewise, the idea that investing in and boosting our regional cities will automatically benefit smaller surrounding towns is also a myth that needs busting.

In my speech in Leeds I said that if we want the success of our cities to be shared with surrounding places there has to be a plan of how to do this. Too many city strategies imply that the location is in competition with everywhere else, including the very places that provide the workers the city economy is dependent upon. The language and vision needs to change to one of collaboration. Places need to be understood in a regional network not as some atomised list of winners and losers.

That nearly 300 stakeholders turned up bright and early on a fairly grey Thursday morning for the LeedsBID AGM is a testament to the good work the BID is doing. I likened the BID to the glue that connects up all the various players for the good of the city. The number of people who wanted to talk to me afterwards about wider forms of collaboration demonstrated the appetite for spreading this glue further.

The next stage, we believe, for Big City BIDs like Leeds, is to reach out to surrounding towns. Not by extending the geographic area of the BID, but through more partnership working and co-operation between the BID and other BIDs or other place partnerships similar to the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model currently in operation around Manchester. The BID Foundation, the industry body that is leading the development of the BID model, is already working on ways to facilitate this type of peer-to-peer and place-to-place support. From trickle-out to reach-out economics?