How have UK Business Improvement Districts responded to COVID? Introducing a Disaster Management Framework

Author Natalie Raben

This resource from Natalie Raben presents key findings from an MSc in Place Management and Leadership research project. The study focused on how Business Improvement Districts in the UK changed their business practices in response to COVID-19. Based on BID manager interviews and surveys, nine themes are explored and embedded into a Disaster Management Framework: Communications, Partnerships, Public Safety, Resilience, BID Identity, Public Realm, Funding, Pivoting, and Uncertainty.

Date added 9 November 2021
Last updated 9 November 2021

This resource from Natalie Raben presents key findings from an MSc in Place Management and Leadership research project. The study focused on how Business Improvement Districts in the UK changed their business practices in response to COVID-19. Based on BID manager interviews and surveys, nine themes are identified and embedded into a Disaster Management Framework for BIDs to use in times of crisis, both during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. These key themes identified in the research are summarised below:

  • Communications– BID leaders consistently characterised communications as most important when it came to their programmes during COVID. This included increasing engagement and frequency of contact with businesses, dissecting through and signposting to vital and timely information, creating safety-lead messaging around neighbourhood marketing campaigns, and investing in digital support services for businesses.
  • Partnerships– High level collaboration led to a more embedded place for BIDs amongst decision makers, such as government and police forces, during COVID. BIDs also took COVID as a time to review decisions about their own choices in partnerships, potentially leading to bringing on contractors that could provide added value by plugging the BID into a wider resource network.
  • Public Safety– In-house risk-related documentation rose in importance for BIDs, with many BIDs having created response documents for both internal and external audiences during COVID. In addition to this type of strategising, public safety also took a front seat for BIDs through the distribution of PPE for businesses and the installation of external safety measures within the public realm.
  • BID Identity– COVID sharpened focus for BIDs by encouraging more long-term planning. Ironically, COVID gave BIDs the opportunity to increase their levy payer engagement – by being the go-to resource of timely information – which gave organisations chances to improve or reignite poor or dormant levy payer relationships.
  • Resilience– As an off-shoot of BID identity, COVID reinstated the importance of long-term planning by encouraging BIDs to consider a future full of unknowns and to think big about where they’d like to be in the next era.
  • Public Realm– Even with temporary business closures and social distancing measures in place, maintaining the public realm in a tidy and welcoming way remained a priority for BIDs. Changes such as the implementation of walking and cycling routes were also made quicker by local councils during COVID times, which BIDs played a major role in by overseeing activities such as stakeholder engagement.
  • Funding– COVID caused BIDs to approach budgeting stringently, without being certain on the actual annual income. Furthermore, nudging levy payers to make levy payments during such an uncertain time also proved difficult.
  • Pivoting– To accommodate realities of this ‘new normal’ BIDs implemented quick adaptations to programmes – such as moving events online – or pausing services that were temporarily made irrelevant by COVID.
  • Uncertainty– Although difficult to prepare for the unknown, there were certain elements BIDs could control such as contingency planning for varying future possibilities by being aware of what was - and was not yet - known.

The resource concludes with recommendations on how to maintain the longevity of these changes, including BIDs having a more active role in influencing government support programmes, and how future research could study the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on the UK BIDs industry.