MY CUSTOMERS have asked about the sign in my window ‘Andover Businesses Unite.

NO BID’. Andover BID’s website describes a BID as ‘a business-led and business funded body formed to improve a defined commercial area. Businesses decide and direct what they want by having a voice in issues affecting the area’.

Sounds positive until you start to understand who the real ‘winners’ will be.

TVBC paid BID consultation company The Means £30,000 to conduct their own BID survey. Results (not independently verified) confirmed businesses were interested in a BID, but many businesses have subsequently said they knew nothing about the survey!

On the basis of this apparently positive survey, TVBC invested a further £50,000 to BID consultation company called CMS, chosen because they are one of the UK’s leading BID companies on consultation and ballots. If it’s a YES outcome CMS get a further £20,000 to set the BID up. It’s in CMS’s interest to get a positive result and therefore it’s a conflict of interest. There has been no money available for a NO campaign from the TVBC.

The BID business plan (published on September 26, two weeks before the start of the month long postal ballot in October) gives businesses little time to digest it’s contents or to have a public consultation or to change the content!

TVBC have to approve the contents of the BID business plan before they agree to go ahead with the ballot, although there is nothing to stop the BID changing what they spend the money on over the five year period.

What is known is that a sizeable proportion will go in overheads and the money will be spent by a private company with volunteer directors self appointed from within the Andover community managed by a paid project manager or management company. Incredulously CMS who are the paid BID consultation company could also offer ongoing management services if the BID gets voted in. You could not have more of a conflict of interest if you tried! BIDs don’t have to post full audited accounts or hold an AGM or give all the businesses voting rights at meetings or give detailed income and expenditure figures, therefore they don’t have to be truly accountable to the businesses forced to pay them a levy. If businesses refuse to pay the mandatory levy TVBC will take them to court and appoint bailiffs if necessary.

There’s no minimum turnout for ballot required often it’s less than 35 per cent and you only need half of this amount(eg 17.6 per cent of the total available votes) to vote YES and the BID will get in! Andover has only 254 votes available so the BID could feasibly get voted in on just 40 something votes including the TVBC, who have multiple votes including several car parks, as the levy is based on the RV of a property known as a hereditament. Assuming TVBC will cast their votes as ‘yes’, it’s very concerning that such a long term financial burden of a mandatory BID levy could be forced upon businesses endorsed by the TVBC to the tune of up to £100,000 with such an alarming lack of transparency.

Georgina Roberts, Mooch Trading Ltd, Bridge Street, Andover