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Trying to run before it can walk

Get rid of BID.

BID (Business Improvements District, now known as DublinTown) is a not-for-profit quango, funded by hundreds of retailers in an area, 2,500 of which are compelled by the City Council – acting under the Local Government BIDs Act 2006 – to pay an extra rate to it. Businesses must vote in favour of becoming a Business Improvement District in order for it to be established.

BID’s role was originally to ensure that an area would be clean, green and accessible. Its chief executive is Richard Guiney formerly prominent in the Dublin City Business Association and its chairman is Ray Hernan, CEO of Arnotts. Itsboard comprises city business people and councillors including myself and Ciarán Cuffe, as well as Rose Kenny, Dublin City Council Area Manager. The problem is that its principal functions are already dealt with by the City Council. Additional tasks undertaken by BID, a US-inspired initiative much promoted by the City Business Association, include intense cleaning such as graffiti removal, managing the Christmas lights, tackling the anti-social behaviour that obsesses its members, organising festivals, collecting waste, ‘lobbying’ and ‘branding’. Ultimately it seems that BID is more concerned with employing marketing companies to gure out what consumers are buying than it is about husbanding ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money to make the city a cleaner, safer place with. BID is attempting to run before it has shown it can walk.

The problem for its beleaguered compulsory members is that its functions are ill-defined and many claim that despite its expansionary intent it is not delivering on its original functions. Business owners in Capel St recently took the BID to court and won their case, and some are now seeking to exit the BID and be free of the extra rate levy.

BID has brought us branded quarters like Dame District, Talbot Area District and the Creative Quarter. It even has ambassadors directing the public to top Dublin attractions. It is improper, against a background of suspicion of local authorities and the indictment of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust for the City Council to collect over €2m as an extra rate levy forBID/Dublintown, but to have no audit control on how or where this money is spent, if only because DCC is the overriding rating authority. I have a motion before DCC calling on councillors to instruct the CEO to forensically audit this company.

At its most recent EGM a strong group of members including some on the Board challenged the CEO and the chairman about a process that would give the BID company the legal right to borrow moneyand begin to acquire property, including for a €1.5m headquarters in the former TSB on Lower Abbey St. Serious questions were raised by members of the organisation about whether such functions wereultra vires the objects of the company and the terms of the 2006 Act. The meeting collapsed in acrimony over the issue of allegedly dubious proxies.

Tempers were further frayed by the secrecy of BID/DublinTown’s salvo with Dublin City Council into the Christmas Market business at St Stephen’s Green in 2014, franchised to an outfit called Milestone Inventive whose shareholders include Enterprise Ireland. Due to its faux-ski-resort tackiness, over reliance on fast food and beer and close proximity to what is already a very busy commercial area, this so-called Christmas market caused great annoyance to many local rate-paying businesses, including many BID members, to the Restaurants Association of Ireland and car-drivers. Dublin City’s CEO, Owen Keegan professed himself “underwhelmed” by it, and it duly made noises about improving for next year.

BID/DublinTown company is primarily interested in Dublin’s big-beast retailers: BT, Arnotts, Clearys, O’Carrolls Gift Shop, the Ilac Centre etc. It appears more concerned with employing marketing companies to gure out what consumers are buying than it is about making the environment of the city a cleaner, safer place. While some of this might be admirable in its place, it is undemocratic and perhaps even illegal to do so with rate-payers’ money that has been compulsorily extracted from hard-pressed businesses. It also gets the City Council o the hook for some of its own delinquent services.

Unsurprisingly, the CEO of Dublin City Council is not impressed by BID marketing initiatives or its property adventures, but claims to be legally powerless since itis accountable only to its own shareholders. The BID/DublinTown brand with its limited remit is inconsistent with Dublin City’s own brand of promoting Dublin.

The arrogance and indifference of BID’s current leadership has ensured the discontent of many BID members and will ensure their downfall or discontinuance. It is marshalling its diminishing credibility to ‘love bomb’ Sinn Féin, frantic to burnish its business credentials, the biggest group on the Council – one time bolsterers of now disgraced Temple Bar Cultural Trust.

As a Board member of BID I have little confidence in the company. A Business Improvement District’s mandate is for a maximum of 5 years. A Business Improvement District wishing to continue beyond 5 years must reaffirm its mandate through another ballot, based on a further proposal. I support the bid for freedom. •

Mannix Flynn