In an interview with LBN, Southport BID chair Dan Taylor issues a ‘stronger together’ call and urges businesses across the town to come together, engage and support each other. Tony McDonough reports
Southport is in the midst of one of its most transformative periods of change in decades, says Dan Taylor, who is urging businesses across the town to engage to maximise its potential.
In January this year Dan became the new chair of Southport Business Improvement District (BID).
Funded via a levy paid by local businesses, the BID’s role is to promote and champion businesses in Southport as a visitor and investment destination and to support enhancement of the public realm.
And for Dan, who is director of integration at Southport law firm Fletcher’s Group, the BID also exists to create a forum where businesses can come together to share experiences, find solutions to problems and offer their own thoughts and ideas on improving the town.
“I think engagement is our biggest strength and, where there is a lack of engagement it is an area of weakness that we need to address,” said Dan in an interview with LBN.
“Within the BID we have set up a number of different forums. They have been a great success and have brought many of the town’s businesses together in a really positive way.
“But, as in any other town or city, there are those businesses and entrepreneurs who have their heads down running their businesses and perhaps are less aware of what is happening locally.
“What we find is that it is those businesses that least engage that tend to have the most negative outlook about their own prospects or that of the local economy. They may feel isolated and have to battle problems alone – but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Dan has worked at Fletchers for 27 years. He has seen it turn from a small local solicitors firm with around 30 people, to a private equity-backed personal injury firm that is a major UK player employing more than 750 people. It is Southport’s biggest private sector employer.
He says one of the key lessons he has learned during his time at the business is that big transformative change takes time and the immediate benefits aren’t always obvious – taking time before they are realised.
Southport is the recipient of tens of millions of Government Town Deal funding. That is supporting the construction of the £73m Marine Lake Events Centre and the £1.5m Enterprise Arcade, which will be a hub for the digital and creative sectors.
IT services firm Techedia has just opened a £1m headquarters in the Cloisters Building and the town centre and Mikhail Hotel and Leisure Group is investing heavily in the town’s hospitality sector.
Victoria Park Management Company and Southport Flower Show, the biggest independent flower show in the UK, are growing their events offering, attracting more people to the town.
Sefton Council’s Les Transformations De Southport is focusing on improving physical connections and routes across the town centre. And the city region’s LCR Connect is bringing superfast connectivity to local businesses.
Dan added: “In my 27 years working in Southport I have never seen change here on this scale. Look at how the new Southport market has been a catalyst for growth in the immediate streets.
“But change on this scale always takes time. If you are an entrepreneur running your own business you can make decisions and do things quickly. But big scale change takes time to plan and deliver.
“And a small business owner might say ‘well this is all great but what does it mean to me?’. Our responsibility as a BID is to take that out of the abstract and bring people together to exchange ideas on how we can make the most of those opportunities.
“It is one of the oldest cliches to say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ but it remains just as true today.
“Businesses in Southport are facing the same challenges as those across the country – stubbornly high inflation, soaring energy costs. The message we want to get out there is that you are not alone.
“Other businesses are facing these challenges too and by meeting up and talking to each other and working together it becomes easier to find solutions. Positivity leads to opportunity – I firmly believe that.”
BID’s role, says Dan, isn’t just about getting people talking to each other. It is also about offering those wider connections to the council, to the Combined Authority. He added: “That simple act of engagement opens so many doors through which support is available.”
There are challenges for Southport, he acknowledges. Transport links are of variable quality. The town enjoys excellent rail links with the rest of Liverpool city region but less so with Manchester. A stronger BID is a powerful voice for change, he insists.
“I have a philosophy that I call ‘leaning in’,” he said. “When problems surface it is very easy to put your head in the sand and hope it goes away. My approach is to lean into it as a better way of finding solutions.
“If you own and run your own business then you are an entrepreneur. You are already doing the brave bit. Why not engage outwardly and find out how the local business community can support you and how you can support it.
“There is always strength in numbers. No one person has all the answers but if you speak to enough people then you have a much better chance of finding them. Come and engage with us and start to make a real difference to Southport.”
Rachel Fitzgerald took over as chief executive of Southport BID in 2019. Since then she has worked to bring businesses and key individuals together, not just from within the town itself but also from across Liverpool city region.
“Dan is correct. Engagement is at the heart of our philosophy,” said Rachel. “When I came into the BID in 2019 I saw a town with strong fundamentals and a rich history. But I also felt too many people were working in silos.
“Individual entrepreneurs and businesses do great work here. And it is our job to shout about that and to bring those success stories together to promote the power of the collective.
“We have helped to bring people together and the great projects that are now under way in Southport have come about as a result of people working together.
“Also key is connectivity. We absolutely need good physical connections such as roads and rail. Digital connectivity is a game-changer for Southport and our work on making sure the town benefits fully from LCR Connect means we can future-proof our economy
“And, to return to the main theme here, connecting people. Through cooperation we exchange ideas and combine our knowledge and resources to drive Southport forward into the future.”