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The claims and counterclaims at the heart of the bitter Dublin Town row

A group of businesses want to do away with the city improvement scheme.

Image: YouTube

A ROW OVER business group Dublin Town has stepped up a gear as members of the initiative vote on whether or not it has a future.

As previously reported by Fora, a number of businesses that form part of the capital’s Business Improvement District (BID) – marketed as Dublin Town – launched a campaign to abolish the scheme.

Yesterday, the ‘no to BID’ side – fronted by councillor Mannix Flynn – outlined in a nine-point manifesto the reasons why it wants to do away with the initiative.

However a few hours later, Dublin Town – which has sent legal letters to both Flynn and Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) chief Adrian Cummins over their public criticism of the scheme – issued a strongly worded statement rejecting many of the points.

With everything from the effectiveness of Dublin Town to the level of opposition enjoyed by the ‘no’ side in dispute, these are the key claims and counter-claims flying between the two sides:

How many businesses oppose Dublin Town?

Not-for-profit organisation Dublin Town was set up 10 years ago, originally under the name Dublin BID. Its job is to represent and promote businesses in the city centre.

It provides services like cleaning graffiti off buildings and maintaining flower displays around the city. It also runs promotional initiatives like ‘Dine in Dublin’.

All businesses in the BID catchment area are automatic members of the scheme. In addition to the normal commercial rates paid to Dublin City Council, they must pay a levy equal to 5% of their rates bill to support the running of Dublin Town.

The companies in the scheme vote every five years on whether to renew it or not. A vote is taking place now and members have been asked to cast their ballots by 17 July.

47  Dine In Dublin_90503671 'Dine in Dublin' campaign Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Pushing its case yesterday, the ‘no to BID’ campaign said that it is supported by 800 businesses in the city centre.

Dublin Town immediately questioned the figure, adding that the opposition side had flip-flopped on how many businesses it counted in its ranks since first collecting signatures for a petition in March 2015.

It claimed that the ‘no to BID’ figure has jumped from 500 to 700 members and back again.

However a spokeswoman for the ‘no’ campaign told Fora that the 800-member figure is based on an email database and qualitative data collected from petitioning companies around the city.

Footfall – up or down?

One of the major concerns voiced by the ‘no’ campaign is how Dublin Town has affected footfall in the city centre – a key metric for any customer-facing business.

The opposition camp claimed that footfall has declined by more than a third in the last decade, with 52 million fewer pedestrians in the city centre last year compared to 2007.

Conor Keoghan, a member of the ‘no to BID’ campaign, told Fora that this figure was based on an analysis of week-on-week data supplied by both Dublin Town and its predecessor, as well as figures published on the government’s open data website.

Dublin Town, on the other hand, says that footfall has increased since 2011 – although that benchmark comes from a low-point during the financial crisis.

When asked by Fora if it was misleading to compare different dates to those used in the ‘no’ side’s figures, a spokeswoman said Dublin Town couldn’t comment on figures before 2010 because it was “not in existence” before then.

“Dublin Town began to track footfall data in the city from 2010,” she said in a statement.

Our footfall data is tracked by Springboard, who are international experts in footfall data tracking. Dublin Town has no input into how this data is presented.

However, Keoghan said he believes the data put out by Dublin Town is “an abridged figure” and raised concerns that an increase in cameras monitoring footfall on city streets was leading to ‘double counting’ and distortion in the figures – a claim Dublin Town strongly denies.

Restaurants group

In its statement yesterday, Dublin Town also singled out the RAI CEO Cummins for criticism. Together with Flynn, the restaurant lobby boss has been a vocal opponent of Dublin Town in its current form.

90242382_90242382 RAI's Adrian Cummins Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Dublin Town claimed it was aware of a letter sent by 19 restaurants to RAI president Liam Edwards asking that the organisation remain neutral in the ongoing vote.

“These businesses were concerned to see Mr Cummins vociferously calling for a no vote and speaking at the press conference for the ‘no to BID’ campaign,” it said.

Cummins told Fora that it is the RAI’s policy position that the BID levy is “not fit for purpose and must be amended”. He said this position has been ratified by the RAI’s national council.

“The BID tax is a double taxation measure on businesses,” he said.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland would like the BID levy scrapped.

The council’s role

As mentioned, one of the services provided by Dublin Town is graffiti-cleaning.

‘No to BID’ has said that businesses’ annual rates to Dublin City Council should cover this service as their contributions already made up a large chunk of the local authority’s income.

However, Dublin Town has maintained that the council will not replace or fund such a service if the organisation ceases to exist.

A spokeswoman for the group said that Dublin City Council’s chief executive Owen Keegan has confirmed that the council only provides a budget for graffiti removal from buildings owned by the council.

“There is no provision for graffiti removal from private properties,” she said.

Dublin City Council confirmed to Fora that it only removes graffiti from its own property and street furniture.

“As regards private property, the legal responsibility rests with the occupier / owner for removal,” it said in a statement.

Note: This article was updated to include comment from Dublin City Council.

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Written by Conor McMahon and posted on Fora.ie

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