Town centre businesses told the annual BID levy still stands

Town centre businesses told the annual BID levy still stands
Ross Feeney

For bigger firms this could mean paying up to £5,000. The head of BID Ross Feeney, who took over from Karen Pengelly earlier this year, told business owners on Friday [March 22] that invoices were currently being sent to the 700 companies within the BID area.

BID receives around £400,000 a year from local businesses in the town. But Mr Feeney said the Levy would not be cancelled and the town centre was still ‘open for business’. “Our core aim is to invest in the town centre, to provide inward investment to promote business support, and to make Tunbridge Wells a destination of choice rather than just a destination of habit. We aim to increase footfall, dwell time and visitor’s spend.

“Now clearly at the moment that is a considerable challenge, and we are doing everything we can to support our levy payers and every business in the town centre to encourage the message, where possible, that we are open for business, but when it is not possible, we are working tirelessly with others to support business as best we can.”

He continued: “Clearly it is a very challenging time for all businesses, but the levy itself is not being cancelled because it is a surcharge of the rateable value of a business, not the Business Rates.”

He admitted the timing was ‘unfortunate’ as levy invoices were currently being sent out, but said that a certain amount of ‘leniency’ would be given to those firms struggling.

But he added: “The levy we collect is 100 per cent spent locally. The proposals we are putting in place are directly to support local business rather than be distributed nationally.”

The annual ‘levy’ equates to around 1.25 per cent of the rateable value of a business. For some firms this can be as high as the maximum £5,000, but smaller businesses with a rateable value below £15,000 are exempt.

Among the proposals suggested by the BID so far has been to promote the idea of asking customers to purchase gift vouchers for local businesses that they can buy now and use when the emergency is over.

But BID stopped short of guaranteeing such vouchers for customers if a business collapsed due to the Covid-19 measures but would ‘promote’ them instead. Mr Feeney later told the Times that there was ‘no legal provision’ for cancelling the levy.

He said: “Under the business rates holiday there was no legal provision for waiving BID levy – not just in Tunbridge Wells but across the country. We are actively looking at what we can do to defer payment collections to ensure levy payers are not chased for payments during this challenging period.

“Like all BIDs we follow best practice guidance from British BIDs and as such have a contingency built into our annual budget. We do, also, have a modest underspend in the current financial year budget as we have deferred some projects as a result of the shutdown.

“The BID board, which is comprised of levy payers, are reviewing how these funds are managed.”

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