Yorkshire Coast BID: Scarborough Council to look into its role in controversial ballot 'but no further avenue for appeal is available'

Scarborough borough councillors are set to finally scrutinise a report into the controversial 2018 ballot which led to the creation of the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District (DBID).

The authority’s Audit Committee will meet via Zoom on Thursday next week to examine the results of the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) review into the council’s role in the ballot, the validity of which has been called into question by a number of businesses.

The report had been due to be scrutinized in March but it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report by AEA chief executive Peter Stanyon found flaws with the 2018 ballot process but concluded that “on the evidence presented to me I am satisfied that the ballot process was generally undertaken in accordance with the process prescribed by the [DBID] regulations”.

Staithes is the northernmost point of the Yorkshire Coast DBID area.

He went on to say that the ballot was “not administered as well as it might have been” and that he had “significant concerns” over parts of the process.

The DBID is made up of more than 1,300 businesses in the tourism industry from Staithes in the north to Spurn Point in the south with a rateable value of more than £12,000, who have to pay a mandatory levy into the DBID, calculated at 1.5% of their rateable value.

The 2018 ballot of businesses, which was run by Scarborough Council, was passed by a margin of 217 in favour with 175 against, on a turnout of just above 29%.

However, it later came to light that 71 of the yes votes came from the councils involved in the process, including 38 from Scarborough Council.

When they meet next week, the borough council’s Audit Committee will be told that “no further avenue for appeal is available” and that the DBID will go ahead with the council legally obligated to start collecting the levy.

The report, by council director Nick Edwards, asks the committee to accept the AEA report and to write to the government to raise concerns about flaws in the ballot process.

Mr Edwards states that the council should write “to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, expressing concern about the DBID (England) Regulations 2004 and the impact the lack of clarity has had on the DBID process. ”

He adds that in some cases the council “could have exercised its judgement differently but it was found to have not breached the secrecy of the ballot" and not “committed any material irregularity”.

Earlier this year, a solicitor acting for the Yorkshire Coast Levy Payers Association, a group of businesses who oppose the DBID, wrote to the authority calling the report “a sad indictment of the whole process.”

Gareth Pinwell, of Ashfords LLP, went on to say that the council had to do more than just “follow regulations” and called on it to meet with the DBID team and the levy payers to find a way forward, which could include an “alteration” of the DBID agreement.