Business Improvement District entity Aberdeen Inspired kept a lid on its finances – until now. Suzanne Kelly writes.
Businesses in the BID area pay 1% of rateable value to Aberdeen City Council. Aberdeen Inspired invoices ACC for salaries, the levy, and schemes ranging from lacklustre to hare-brained.
AI’s website boasts “…we will try our best to answer any queries and engage with our audience…”. In reality AI blocked many from its social media and won’t answer Freedom Of Information requests.
Happily, a FOI to Aberdeen City Council about an AI scheme resulted in 80 invoices and 200 pages of emails being released.
These show AI invoicing ACC for the Christmas village (ACC contributing £165k in 2019 and £180k in 2018), an annual mural event (£100k pa), and more. These events are nice enough – but they do not seem to be saving businesses from folding.
The released invoices total nearly £3 million including VAT, but don’t cover all AI’s activities. Inspired invoiced the city a total of £1.6 million for the levy across these invoices – the true total is likely to be higher.
Two winners from the BID scheme were AI’s City Centre Manager and its Night Time & Eveniing Economy Manager, trousering £47k and £20k respectively per annum. What do they and AI do to earn their cash?
AI Chief Executive Adrian Watson, a retired police officer, boasted the 2018 Christmas market welcomed 631k visitors. When questioned on the absurdly-high figures, Watson said they used an external company to track footfall.
Had even a fraction of such a crowd visited nearby John Lewis and other shops, perhaps JL and other business would still be here.
During lockdown AI spent £80k on wooden ‘parklets’ (aka benches). Some were vandalized; all have since been removed in a huge waste of materials.
Many BID levy payers were shocked when it emerged £400k of central government money went on a scheme for illuminated street signs.
The 12 signs can only be read from one direction, they experience failures, and are often left switched off.
The company awarded the work (apparently with no tender exercise held) was an English firm that has since gone bankrupt.
How this was meant to help local businesses remains a mystery.
What’s the impact on retailers and hospitality of these follies plus a gift card scheme AI charged £15k to launch, £30k on a ‘place-based investment fund,’ and £6.4k for seagull nest and egg removal? Businesses are leaving in droves.
From the departure of John Lewis, potential pull-out of Marks & Spencer through to the closure of beloved restaurants, pubs and small shops, the millions AI spent have had no measurable positive impact.
Don’t assume though that Inspired don’t know how to economise. In 2015 it invited musicians to audition to play for free at the Christmas village where they could ‘pass the hat around in the usual manner.’