A Lanark business leader is warning that moves for the royal burgh to adopt a scheme intended to boost its economy must avoid the same mistakes that befell Carluke after it signed up for the exact same initiative.
After the Scottish Government and South Lanarkshire Council-backed Business Investment District (BID) scheme was introduced in Carluke three years ago, it was dogged by controversy.
Some businesses in the town complained that it had not been made clear before agreeing to take part in the scheme that they would be legally required to pay a substantial annual fee into a communal pot for town centre improvements.
There was also bitterness about BID rules and boundaries that saw Carluke’s biggest store, Tesco, paying nothing at all into that pot while charity shops were billed for the full amount.
Even the owners of vacant shops now only used for storage received a BID bill for commercially defunct properties.
The way BID contributions were spent in Carluke also led to discontent.
Now, Lanark Community Development Trust is leading moves to have a Lanark BID scheme adopted by the town’s shopkeepers and businesses.
It has appointed Lanimer committee chairwoman Loraine Swan to act as an ambassador and tour the town to canvass opinions on the royal burgh setting up a BID scheme.
With several promiment shop units currently vacant in its town centre, Lanark Business Group chairman Alastair Brooks said: “It’s beyond argument that something has to be done to boost trade in Lanark town centre.
“Whether or not a BID scheme in Lanark is the right thing is another question.
“At the moment, the group is staying neutral on the issue.
“All I am certain of at the moment is that it must not be brought in as it was in Carluke.
“From the word go, we have to tell every trader in Lanark exactly what it will cost and exactly what it will do to improve their business and the town in general.”
He stressed that introducing a BID scheme to Lanark “was not an initiative of the Lanark Business Group”.
However, he added that group members are open to any suggestion to improve town trade.
He said that he felt many of the small businesses in Lanark would not welcome a BID scheme if there were not clear ground rules from the start.
“These small businesses will have to be convinced that the BID levy is not just another tax on them. They’ve enough of these to pay already,” he said.
“Some of them are working on very tight profit margins indeed. Whatever the BID levy for Lanark is, it must not be so expensive that these small businesses decide joining up isn’t worth it for them.
“These small traders will also need to know if there is to be a level playing field here.
“You can only imagine how the owner of a small business in Lanark town centre will feel to have to pay into the BID pot and then learn that somehow the town’s Tesco store pays nothing.
“Personally, I would like to see a reasonable attitude being taken to the amount demanded from businesses.
“A blanket standard BID fee would obviously be unfair with a wee Lanark independent shop paying the same as a major national chain store.
“If BID is to work in Lanark, it must be fair and cost-effective.”