Until this week my favourite tale of Preston’s Business Improvement District (BID) – the mechanism by which self-styled business leaders extract a £2.2m tithe from traders to spend on the city centre – came via my barber.
A bracingly foul-mouthed man, one day during a profane short back and sides I happened to ask if he thought the BID organised farmers’ market going ahead that day would boost his coffers.
He then proceeded to turn the air every known shade of blue, until finally it resembled the moonless, starless midnight sky – by which time I had learned he was among the 40 per cent or so of traders who voted against the scheme, and how it was obvious those who benefitted most from events like that day’s rustic raid on the urban purse were the big chain stores (and in this he is, obviously, correct, just as the many evening ‘events’ mostly put dough in the pockets of the Big Pub Co brigade who own half the boozers).
He then told me of a recent visit to his shop from a BID bluecoat (maybe you have seen these souls, wandering forlorn here and there, looking for something to do) one busy Saturday afternoon.
Said bluecoat popped his head round the door to ask my barber if there was something he could do. So he told this lad. In, no doubt, the bluntest possible terms. Why yes. Yes there is.
In a nutshell, minus profanity, BID should extract their digit, get streets off Fishergate shut to traffic, thereby giving the bars, cafes and restaurants therein access to open unpolluted space, get a few buskers in, bit of street theatre, make these charming lanes buzz a bit, feel like a ‘destination’, Bob’s your uncle.
Ears likely ringing, the bluecoat withdrew.
Shortly, a wee busker – one of some fame in town – pops his head round aforementioned door.
‘One of them blokes in the blue jackets said you want me to play outside your shop,’ he mumbles...
Cue explosion. A funny story. But topped this week by news that after all my barber’s brass – and that of every other soaked trader – has been blown, the resulting mass of greedy bookies, exploitative cash lenders and grease vendors has now been judged Britain’s unhealthiest city centre.
The next vote on BID councilbacked genuflection to so called business leaders that it is, comes in 2016. The healthy option will be to vote them out the door.