Celebrating Scotland’s Improvement Districts


Speakers and organisers of the nights event. Credit to Sandy Young

On February 28th, LGIU was delighted to attend a reception celebrating the work of Scotland’s Improvement Districts (SIDs) at a special event in the Scottish Parliament.

Sharing key learnings and updates from the UK’s most expansive programme of improvement districts, this post from LGIU’s Thomas Lynch recaps key moments from the night.

What are Scotland’s Improvement Districts?

Scotland’s Improvement Districts provide a vehicle for local businesses to work together with public and private sector partners to improve local economies and, by extension, local communities in a variety of contexts.

SIDs – part of Scotland’s Towns Partnership family – is the organisation charged with spearheading the growth of improvement districts nationally, providing a hub for expert support and knowledge-sharing to increase their impact and influence.

“Scotland is home to the world’s most expansive programme of improvement districts – and there’s huge potential in developing it further.” Phil Prentice, SIDs’ national programme director.”

Launched in 2018, Scotland’s Improvement Districts leads the UK’s largest network of improvement districts, expanding from business improvement districts to:

Celebrating SIDs

“Local businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and where they can work as a collective the results can be very impressive and positive to our towns.” Siobhian Brown, MSP for Ayr and Convener of Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Towns.”

Welcoming us to The Holyrood Room in the Parliament, Siobhian Brown MSP, Convener, Cross Party Group for Towns and Town Centres introduced Tom Arthur MSP, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth.

Praising the impact of SID’s across the country for improving local economies and making their areas better places to live and work, the Minister hailed their £6m annual levy contribution.

Linking the momentum over SID’s to recent developments in Community Wealth Building and the new National Planning Framework 4, the Minister seized upon the importance of hyper-localism in BID’s, as communities hold the best knowledge of what works and what needs to be done.

“Supporting sustainable growth of businesses and communities is a key aim of Scottish Government. It is good to see Improvement Districts recognised as we continue our drive to create a fairer, greener and more prosperous economy for Scotland.” Minister Tom Arthur.

Next up was Councillor Gail Macgregor, Environment and Economy Spokesperson, COSLA.

For Councillor Macgregor, the key learning from the BID’s programme in Scotland was the sustainability of this model meaning that once established, a BID continues to evolve and grow. Delivering a local government perspective to the evening, Councillor Macgregor highlighted the important role of Councils in local economies, annually investing £654 million a year in economic development, supporting 15,000 businesses and spending £7 billion each year on procurement.

Our next speaker, Adrian Watson, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Inspired Business Improvement District (BID), provided an illuminating case study. With BID’s 800 levy payers contributing £800,00-£900,000 a year, Adrian spoke of the importance of BID’s in driving the City Centre. As a conduit between businesses and Aberdeen City Council, key developments such as a nighttime manager and a city centre manager draw upon the successes of Aberdeen including a Christmas festival and Nuart Aberdeen.

Scotland’s Towns Partnership Chairman Professor Leigh Sparks gave a long-term perspective on the evolution of SID’s – developing from a basic concept to far-sighted legislation and further refinement of that concept in tourism and digital SID’s. Professor Sparks acknowledged the critical role of SIDs during the pandemic. Going forward, providing communities with the agency to build sustainable local wealth is one key to Scotland’s future.

Finally, Phil Prentice, SIDs’ national programme director, closed the event by celebrating the “terrific difference SIDs make in their communities”, paying thanks to the Minister and Scottish Government for their ongoing support.

Concluding reflections

LGIU congratulates the STP team and Scottish Parliament staff for hosting an inspiring event. Interest and passion from attendees show that there is a real appetite for change and ambition from those working with Scotland’s Improvement Districts to support local communities.

Find out more about Scotland’s Improvement Districts here.

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