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GSD accuses Govt of ‘betrayal’ over BID scheme, but businesses disagree

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The GSD on Wednesday accused the Government of “betraying” the business community over its support for the BID scheme, even as those behind the regeneration project said that “at no point” had the Government changed its commitment.

Earlier this week, the GSD questioned why the Government would match only £250,000 of the £500,000 cost of the BID scheme, which aims regenerate the town centre with an eye on business and is raising funds from the private sector.

The GSD said the Government was reneging on its commitment to match private investment in the scheme “pound for pound”.

The Government replied that it was meeting its initial commitment – agreed at the time at £250,000 - but that the scheme had since been widened further by the team overseeing the BID project, who had “moved the goal posts”.

In a statement yesterday, the BID Task Group acknowledged that position and said the decision to extend the scheme to include offices and other properties in the town area was its “own initiative”.

It said the Government was supporting the scheme “exactly as agreed at the time”.

For the GSD, however, the Government’s reply was recognition that it had “abandoned its unequivocal manifesto pledge to match pound for pound”, adding that it had instead “capped” its BID contribution at £250,000 per year.

Roy Clinton, the GSD’s MP for Public Finance and Small Business, said it was “remarkable” that the Minister for Business, Vijay Daryanani, “did not see fit” to tell the business community of this contribution during the BID presentation.

“It is evident… that not only was the BID district already defined at that time to include our side streets, but that the BID levy was £400,000 which the Government was expected to match, doubling your investment, according to the presentation slides,” Mr Clinton said.

“It is obvious from the interviews with business people that they believed that the Government would be matching the £400,000 on an annual basis.”

“In a Government press release on the day Mr Daryanani said that the ‘Government is financially committed to supporting this project on a pound for pound basis… I would like to reassure everyone that the Government fully supports the Main Street BID, especially during these tough times’.

Mr Clinton said that this was said “while standing in front of a backdrop that clearly indicated that Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar would be making pound for pound matched funding”.

“It is also remarkable that in Parliament in July, 2020, the Minister maintained that he was 100% committed to pound for pound assistance,” Mr Clinton added.

Mr Clinton said Mr Daryanani “has in now watering down the Government’s commitment betrayed the business community and undermined the idea that the BID was a shoulder-to-shoulder partnership effort”.

“This was presented and is an important project to regenerate the retail hub of the city centre,” Mr Clinton said.

“His lame attempt at justification for abandoning the commitment by focusing on the leisure, hospitality and retails sectors is just a simple red herring as the fact that the project extended to the side streets and not just Main Street was known in September when he attended the presentation.”

“He also risks alienating those office businesses outside these sectors which he still expects to cough up half of the voluntary levy.”

“It would be more honest for the Government to simply say it can no longer afford its original commitment or that it is unwilling to invest in the city centre as it said it would.”

“Frankly though this is a short-sighted policy as this is the kind of project we should get behind so we are well-placed when we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“I look forward to debating the forthcoming BID Bill in Parliament especially as regards who exactly is entitled to vote in this process and who is exempt from the levy.”

Reacting to the exchanges yesterday, the BID Task Group said “at no point has the Government changed its commitment on financing the BID project on a pound for pound basis”.

“The Government will, exactly as agreed at the time that the BID was presented to them, be supporting the development of the BID in respect of all leisure, hospitality and retail businesses in Main Street and surrounding streets,” the BID Task Group said in a statement.

“We, as organisers of the BID, have subsequently taken the decision to extend the BID scheme, on our own initiative - and without including the Government, as we are free to do - to include offices and other properties in the town area.”

“This was decided without the involvement of the Government as we do not consider that this is an area for public involvement or for public investment, as the beneficiaries will be solely the private landlords, and their tenants, of the properties to be improved.”

“In conclusion, therefore, we think the public elements of the BID, in respect of which the Government will be honouring its commitment in its entirety, will be an excellent initiative for our small businesses and we would like thank the Government for their support.”

“Mr Daryanani has always made himself available and assisted us in everything.”

“We now look forward to finalizing this project for the benefit of all in a manner that does not seek to politicise something which we hope everyone will back.”