Hundreds of businesses have signed a petition protesting the “double taxation” imposed by mandatory payments to the Dublin Business Improvement District (Bid) and seeking a means to leave the organisation.
The signatories, including well known names such as Stock, the Central Hotel, Rhinestone Jewellers and Lillie's Bordello have expressed frustration at having to pay a levy for the Bid which "overlaps" with local authority rates.
Organisers say support has now grown to more than 500 businesses. The Bid, which is branded “We Are Dublin Town”, was established in 2007 and renewed with majority backing in 2012, giving it a mandate to improve footfall in the city centre through marketing and promotional initiatives, a function it says it performs to a high standard.
However, those who believe it is just another financial burden for small to medium-sized businesses hope that, by reaching a target of 1,000 signatures, it can convince Dublin City Council to change the system, namely the controversial mandatory contributions enshrined in legislation.
"We are being double taxed. I don't want to be part of the Bid now. They are doing absolutely nothing for businesses on George's Street," said retailer Jack Irwin of Down to Earth, typifying many of the concerns.
Myles Tuthill, manager of Dublin's Central Hotel, said he is faced with an additional €5,400 bill on top of annual rates of €99,000. "They don't bring anyone into my hotel. Not one person in the years I have been there came in and said Bid sent me."
The organisation covers 2,648 premises in the capital’s central business district incorporating large parts of Dublin 1 and Dublin 2 postcodes. Grounded in legislation, and modelled on other jurisdictions, particularly the UK, companies pay a levy to the company through Dublin City Council as a percentage of, and in addition to, their rates.
Controversy surrounding the system is not new. Last year, many businesses in Dún Laoghaire were vexed at having to participate, with just a 55 per cent vote in support.
In Dublin, the petition has attracted backing from a number of hotels, travel agents and numerous retail outlets. One of its proponents, Kate O’Neil of the Silver Trout on South King Street, said payment should be voluntary. “I have seen no improvement or uplift in trading conditions nor any cost benefit to my business since the inception of Bid in 2007,” she said.
Bid chief executive Richard Guiney roundly defended its work and said it had twice received the democratic backing of its members, without which it could not function.
“Businesses who pay us, if they felt that we were just duplicating what Dublin City Council did, well they would just say no,” he said.
That position is borne out in the voting. In 2012, 1,063 backed the continuation of the Bid with 511 against (68 per cent of a 45 per cent turnout). Ratepayers vote every five years and Mr Guiney is confident of an increase in support in 2017.
He cites several initiatives, including promotional campaigns like the Dublin Fashion Show and Dublin at Christmas; a close working relationship with gardaí to tackle anti-social behaviour, graffiti and street cleaning; reduced waste and insurance costs and the provision of Christmas lights (20 per cent of its approximate €3 million annual spend).
There are regular district meetings for members, and an AGM of members is to be held on June 23rd.
“Fundamentally we are very transparent. Everything is up on our website, we operate to a very high level of corporate governance; we are very efficient,” Mr Guiney said.
“We have to concentrate on why we were set up and that’s about getting footfall back in the city, it’s about increasing the market share for businesses in the city, it’s about being relevant for businesses.”