CEO Blog – Capital shopping is beating high street slump

The record-breaking ­support city centre ­businesses showed to their Business Improvement District last month was enormously gratifying to those of us at Essential Edinburgh who run the BID on behalf of our 550 levy-paying members.

With a turnout of almost 70 per cent and backing of a whopping 91 per cent, the result was an emphatic vote of confidence in the work done to date – and even more importantly in our plans for the next five years of £1million annual private sector investment into the heart of our amazing capital.

That figure will rise, with the number of levy-paying businesses in the area rising to 650 once Edinburgh St James opens its doors in 2020. But the time for celebrating that success is over, and it is now time to focus on the next five years.

We know the commitment our businesses have to the city. We ­consulted widely with them over a two-year period, listened to what they had to say, and produced a new business plan for the next five years – one that we think will build on the successes to date and help tackle one or two key business and social issues.

The cornerstone of our new ­business plan is a £1 million ­marketing campaign focused on the BID area, as part of a £2.35 million package to promote the area.

We will follow-up on the ­success of our This is Edinburgh campaign, which generated £50 million in ­economic benefit, with a targeted, bold, colourful and imaginative marketing campaign dedicated to promoting the BID area. It will ­highlight the diversity and spontaneity of the city centre, the quality of all it offers, and the superb environment and ambience it generates.

Complacency is the enemy of future success. Activity will stretch across an exciting period of developments for the city centre, including the ­reopening of Edinburgh St James, and it will target EH postcode residents, the Lothians and towns within a 50-mile radius of the city.

Drawing residents and locals into the retail and hospitality hotspot – the safest, cleanest and most welcoming district of the city as reported in the Edinburgh Visitor Survey conducted by STR, will only strengthen the city’s position in both sectors and help businesses thrive.

In ­addition, our members told us that we need to play our part in ­tackling the issues of homelessness, rough sleeping and ­begging. We will help to resource a multi-agency approach aimed at helping rough sleepers in the city centre find ­accommodation, working with agencies with genuine expertise in this field.

In addition, we will enhance our ongoing partnership with Police Scotland aimed at providing targeted policing for the BID area, affording everyone who uses the city ­centre even greater levels of safety and ­security.

We will also continue to enhance the city centre through our Clean Team and our street furniture and the provision of all the city centre’s Christmas decorations. We believe our plans will work, because they are designed to build on the successes we have achieved during our past two terms.

We’ve seen Edinburgh city centre retail and hospitality sectors significantly outperform the Scottish and UK markets generally and we’ve also seen our footfall strengthen as many other areas have gone down – all good in terms of helping our businesses thrive, creating jobs and opportunities.

But there have been many other successes – the city centre is safer, cleaner, more welcoming, easier to navigate, and livelier than other parts of the city. Don’t take our word for it, that’s the view of surveyed visitors – and the evidence is that hospitality sales are up 13.5 per cent over three years and retail sales in the BID area are up 9 per cent over the five year term, 3 per cent ahead of UK average and 13 per cent ahead of the Scottish average.

Our footfall led the UK averages by 5.2 per cent – smashing our 2 per cent target while 89 per cent of city ­centre visitors feel the area is safer than ­other parts of the city.

Theft dropped 23 per cent in 2016-17 over the five year average while 80 per cent of visitors to the BID felt it was cleaner than the rest of the city, with 1809 tonnes of trade waste recycled by our award-winning partnership with Changeworks, and our Clean Team removing 14,050 bags of waste each year.

So, we’re delighted with the progress the BID has made. We believe that has underpinned our ­businesses’ faith in the BID and the overwhelming ­support shown. We’re not ­complacent however – we’re ready to start delivering again on a plan designed to make our city centre even more fantastic for all of us lucky enough to live, work, play and visit it.

Roddy Smith, chief executive, Essential Edinburgh.


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