Stratford's Business Improvement District (BID) does a good job but it will need to change like any business to adapt to the economic realities facing our high streets and town centres.  These were the key messages to come out of a six-month review into the work of Stratforward in the run up to its quest to be revoted in for a third term later this year.

Stratforward is one of more than 280 BIDs in the UK - a business-led private/public sector organisation charged with helping a designated area to maximise its business potential. In Stratford, the BID is coming to the end of its second five-year term and the 430 businesses who make up the membership are set to vote for a third term in September. A ‘yes’ vote will see it continue for a further five years. A ‘no’ vote will see it disbanded.

The review has comprised a major consultation exercise with a written questionnaire and individual meetings as well as a series of surveys focused on events in the town to assess impact on trade. The results of the review were unveiled at two final consultation meeting with members yesterday (Tuesday) at Hotel du Vin in Stratford.

The consultation exercise, which began in February, asked businesses for their feedback on four key areas of Stratforward's work: hosting, events/promotion, savings and representation/advocacy. Eight in ten (82%) respondents said marketing and events were the two most important aspects of Stratforward's work for their businesses - key to attracting footfall and customers into the town to spend.

Three quarters (76%) thought Stratforward’s Town Hosts are vital to the continued success of the town. The three-man team that pounds the streets 363 days of the year: answer questions from locals and visitors; act as the 'eyes and ears' of the emergency services on the ground dealing with first aid and security/anti social behaviour incidents daily; run Bardwatch as part of the Warwickshire Retail Crime Initiative which links into the towns CCTV and radio link system, involving over 100 businesses in keeping the town safe; run the educational ambassador tours for front-line staff from businesses, and help control buskers and instances of begging in the town. 

Sixty three per cent of businesses highlighted saving schemes for their staff run by Stratforward as important. The BID operates several discounted parking schemes for staff and a business-to-business discount initiative that can save individual staff hundreds of pounds a year.

Around six in ten businesses (57%) said business savings schemes operated by the BID were important. Some businesses save thousands of pounds a year thanks to the joint procurement scheme Stratforward operates for things like utilities and merchant services. Finally, just under half (45%) said Stratforward’s role in representing businesses’ voice with stakeholders such as councils, business organisations and tourist bodies is important.

Looking ahead to BID3, the vast majority of businesses that responded (87%) thought Stratforward's main job needed to be to promote the town. Hosting and representing the voice of businesses were the next two most important tasks, with around two thirds (66% and (64% respectively) highlighting this. Just over half (52%) of respondents said savings were key to them.

Additional survey work related to the first three major town events of the year - Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations, The Stratford Festival of Motoring and The River Festival - to look at both positive and negative impacts of events on business.

Around eight in ten businesses (82%) who responded to the survey on Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations, run by a committee headed by the town and district councils, thought they gave a positive impression of Stratford. However, one in ten businesses (10.19%) felt the opposite. Asked about their views on impact on footfall to the town, just over half of respondents (53%) agreed the event had a positive impact on footfall to the town. Just under one in five disagreed (18%).

Businesses were then asked for feedback on the Stratford Festival of Motoring, which saw some BID members enjoy record-breaking days over the early May Bank Holiday weekend. Around eight in ten respondents (81%) to the survey on the Stratforward-organised event thought it gave a positive impression of the town. Just 6% disagreed. Similarly, 87% said they felt it had a positive impact on footfall with just 6% disagreeing. Over half of businesses (53%) felt they had gained new customers as a result of the festival.

Businesses were also asked for their views on Stratforward's recent award-winning River Festival, which always attracts record numbers of people to Stratford for a weekend of free music, fun and food.

Eight in ten businesses (81%) felt the festival gave a positive impression of Stratford, with just 15% disagreeing. Over two thirds (69%) agreed the event had a positive effect on footfall to the town while 10% said it did not. Six in ten (60%) felt some kind of benefit from the festival, with 10% saying it had ‘massively’ benefited them, 18% saying it had benefited them a ‘lot’ and 32% a ‘little’. A quarter (24%) felt the festival had a negative effect on their business, while 16% said there was no benefit.

Over a third (36%) said the festival had resulted in an increase in sales, while 36% said their sales were the same. Nearly three in ten (28%) felt their sales were worse or much worse. And despite some concerns and suggestions for how to improve the festival, half of respondents (53%) said they would be likely to get involved in the event in the future - a third of whom (35.9%) would ‘definitely’ take part.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Stratforward Director Joe Baconnet said: “This review exercise has given us an invaluable insight into how businesses feel about the work of Stratforward and the events organised by us, and others, aimed at promoting and showcasing the town.

“Overall, there is a lot of positive feedback on the work the BID carries out on a day-to-day basis in the name of our members. It is obvious that much of the work done by Stratforward on promotion and events, hosting, saving money for members and acting as the voice of business in the town is appreciated by members.

"However, in these most challenging of times for the High Street - highlighted yet again in recent days by the Grimsey Review - it is obvious that the organisation needs to change to reflect the changing needs of these new times. BID3, if voted for by members in September, will have to be different to reflect the current climate.

"The bottom line is that we need to work more closely with members and stakeholders and adapt to the new conditions to get more people to come into town to spend in our shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs and use the professional services we offer like banks, solicitors and estate agents - and not just on event days.

"In Stratford we’re lucky to have a global reputation and a strong selection of businesses across a range of sectors, so while it’s tough out there, it’s not impossible. It just means that in today’s challenging trading times it is more important than ever that we all work together to ensure we don’t just survive - but thrive.”

The results of the review and feedback from both member meetings will be used to help create a Business Plan for BID3. This plan is expected to published in mid-August when the official notification of ballot issued by Electoral Reform Services is sent out to members. Ballots for the revote will be issued on August 31st and the ballot will end on September 27th. The result of the ballot will be made public on September 28th. A ‘yes’ vote will see BID3 start a 5 year term on April 1st, 2019.  A ‘no’ vote will see the BID disbanded and all work cease.