Newcomer to the Enniskillen business community, Anna Devlin threw herself into chairing the Business Improvement District (BID) Task Team because she believes BID is a “worthy project” and she saw the role as an opportunity to “get out there” and meet the more established business people in the town.
She was delighted last October when the Enniskillen BID was voted in with an 82 per cent majority.
The BID area covers 49 streets and represents over 450 businesses and organisations.
The levy (1.5 per cent of the rateable value of the business) is now due for payment in one lump sum. Legislation states that all businesses within the BID area must pay the levy, even if they voted No. Business owners will receive a letter from Fermanagh and Omagh District Council this week or next. Whilst the letter will be issued by the Council, payment will be going to the BID company and will be managed by the BID company going forward.
From Stewartstown in County Tyrone, Ms. Devlin works as Head of Forensic Accounting for Cavanagh Kelly Chartered accountants and leads their Enniskillen office.
Not only has Ms. Devlin joined the business community in the town, this week she will marry her Enniskillen partner and will become “fully integrated” into the area.
She spoke to Impartial Reporter Business about her hopes for Enniskillen BID.
“Quite a lot of consultation with businesses had been done before I came along. The feedback from that survey was that businesses and communities were calling out for some sort of combined initiative where everyone was coming together for the area,” said Ms. Devlin.
“I was nominated as Chair by the group and I accepted. I saw it as an opportunity to throw myself into the worthy project because I believe in the concept of BID. I felt it had a good, strong vision that could deliver.
As a business person, I felt that this was something that could only be positive so I was very willing to get involved. I also saw it as an opportunity to get out there and it has provided me with that ability to meet people that I wouldn’t have had the chance to come across in that level of timescale. It’s been really rewarding in that sense because it is a very community based area where you do have quite a mix of different businesses trading alongside each other – it’s been really good to get involved and see that.”
Asked for her message to the businesses who are apprehensive about paying a levy, she replied: “85 per cent of businesses voted Yes. To our mind that was extremely strong. We did face challenges in terms of people just seeing the cost and thinking this was something their business couldn’t afford. But once you took time to explain what the initiative was about and the BID mission, it was really encouraging to see that an awful lot of people did change their views and could see that this is a worthwhile investment.”
The overall BID mission is “to boost business, entice customers and enhance experience,” explained Ms. Devlin. “Ultimately, BID is aiming to increase footfall and improve trading in the island town of Enniskillen,” she commented.
A detailed, five-year business plan was presented to local businesses ahead of the BID vote last autumn.
Over the five-year period, the plan proposes to spend £265,000 on boosting business. These initiatives will include the BID negotiating with trade waste and recycling providers to drive down costs; one to one mentoring support; incentives to encourage new businesses into the town centre, such as supporting start-ups and pop ups; analysing factual information on footfall and customer spend; implementing mystery shoppers; and boosting Enniskillen’s Purple Flag status.
In addition, £410,000 would be spent on enticing customers through an up to date Enniskillen town website and seamless social media presence; developing the potential of the Buttermarket; working with experts to profile Enniskillen using a You Tube Channel and virtual visits; hosting ‘Enniskillen evenings’; piloting one late night opening for the entire BID area; and creating a pre-paid Enniskillen gift card.
It is also proposed that almost £200,000 will be spent on enticing customers. These initiatives will include supporting Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in its delivery of the Public Realm Scheme; enhancing signage; paying the business contribution to Enniskillen CCTV scheme and for Christmas lights and examining options surrounding public art, town signage, floral displays and roundabout features.
The costings for the five-year business plan are £874,900 to be spent on the above initiatives, plus £266,000 in overheads; a total of £1.2 million.
“Now that we are in formation, the business plan will be under development in terms of the key projects that are going to be delivered,” said Ms. Devlin. “There will be continual consultation with businesses to ensure that the projects that are decided on are what local businesses want.”
She outlined: “Inevitably there will be a marketing and branding strategy behind BID and the development of that will be under consultation.
“We have a mission to deliver for all businesses. The BID area is made up of a good mix of retail, hospitality, business services and tourism, so we have to ensure that we get the right mix of projects to represent everyone.”
Ms. Devlin explained that CCTV and Christmas light contributions is a big issue for local businesses. On a number of occasions over the past eight years, the Enniskillen CCTV scheme, which was funded by the Council, the PSNI and traders, came under threat because not all traders were paying the required amount. In November 2016, the PSNI indicated that the force may not make any funding available for the Enniskillen CCTV scheme in the 2017-18 financial year.
“CCTV and Christmas lights was vocalised when we met with businesses,” said Ms. Devlin. “Our view is that those contributions that previously would have been paid very much on a voluntary basis will now be captured under the BID initiative so that when you pay your BID levy there will not be a request for an additional amount due. It also ensures that the businesses know that we are all in this together and the neighbour beside is paying for the same level of service.”
The Task Team has just appointed a BID Manager who will oversee the BID company for the next five years. Their name will be revealed in May when they take up their position. The BID Manager’s salary of £32,000-£35,000 will be included in the BID overheads.
“That person will be fundamental,” said Ms. Devlin. “That person will be the one that businesses see on the street, they will be the go to person for businesses to raise ideas or issues.”
The Task Team will soon invite businesses within the BID area to come forward and become members of the BID company “because it is their opportunity to come to meetings and to get involved.” Ms. Devlin asked them to “take ownership; this is their forum for the future investment.”
Urging businesses to pay the BID levy promptly, Ms. Devlin said: “The BID initiative cannot deliver in terms of its projects until it has access to the funds for those projects. Cash-flow planning will be important because obviously the rates bill will still be due. For the majority of businesses within the BID area the cost of the levy will be less than one pound per day.”