BID critics: how is our cash being spent?

By Dan Santy Thursday 07 February 2013 Updated: 08/02 09:59

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DISCONTENT has been voiced over an alleged lack of transparency as to how Rugby's BID company is spending the money it takes from businesses.

A group of some 18 town traders have banded together amid concerns Rugby First - the town's Business Improvement District company - is not being candid enough with how it is using the £620,000 it levied from them this financial year.

Helen Blamires, who owns the Vanilla gift and lifestyle shops on Albert Street, pays Rugby First £1,800 a year - a four per cent top up on the business rates she has to pay annually.

Ms Blamires told the Observer: "There is a group of businesses forming which isn't happy with how the BID is being run. It is gaining momentum.

"Our main concern is a lack of accountability and transparency over how our money is being spent. We've asked them questions but haven't received answers.

"I've done a lot of research into other towns' BIDs and we have by far the highest levy in the country. Rugby BID say without it we would have no CCTV, but I think that's rubbish.

"We have to pay it, we have no choice, but if there's nobody to appeal to and they won't answer our questions then there is no accountability."

In 2010 Rugby First was voted in by businesses for another five year term, meaning it will be in place until 2015 when another ballot to decide its future will be held.

One of its main achievements during its eight years in the town has been to install a £1 million CCTV system hailed as one of the best in the country.

Ms Blamires admits she voted in favour of the BID in 2010 but added she was unaware just how much it would end up costing her.

But Rugby First's boss, Aftab Gaffar, refuted the claims and said the company had been open when asked questions about how it spends ratepayers' money.

"They seem to be picking and choosing when trying to find faults. It's very easy to compare us with another BID and find favourable things about them to try and make us look bad.

"Rugby First’s annual spend and its projected costs are sent out to all levy payers every year to show how it has performed. You can't be more open and transparent than that."

Mr Gaffar added Rugby was a small town centre, meaning a levy more in line with that of bigger towns - around one per cent - would only net it around £180,000 annually.

He said: "If this were the case, by the time all our costs were paid we wouldn't have much money left to spend on services, so it would be a bit of waste levying a smaller amount in the first place.

"Bigger towns have more businesses and so a higher rateable value, meaning they can levy a smaller amount and still get more than we do."

A meeting on Tuesday (February 5) saw businesses given the chance to quiz Mr Gaffar and his fellow BID directors, and

from the some 50 business owners, a hand poll revealed the majority were in support of the services BID provided.

There are around 600 business within the BID area which have to pay the levy.

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