News bulletin no 10

May I apologise for the delay in issuing this edition, due largely to an incredibly full programme of events in recent weeks, as you will see below.  As a consequence, and against all my objectives, you have a bumper edition which spreads to two pages.

We are in interesting and challenging times with Worcestershire’s unemployment figures for January taking a post Christmas sharp upward turn after some four months of generally gradual downward trend, bucking the national picture.  Meanwhile it is also reported today that output growth in the West Midlands accelerated to a 21 month high in January, outpacing the rest of the UK and ushering in new levels of business confidence.  Encouragement, but what is clear is that we cannot afford in Worcestershire to rest in what has been described to me as ‘a culture of contentment’, as that will surely lead to a culture of complacency.  We may still have relatively low unemployment on average, but there are parts of our County where figures are much higher, especially in the 18 to 24 year old category.  Meanwhile we have an ageing population that will require the number of employed tax payers to be significantly higher in the years to come if public services are to be maintained at or above current levels.  The message is clear – we must strive for more jobs and more working population.  At the same time, we have much poor employment with low wage levels, and that defines our role in raising the quality of jobs and improving the training and skills of the workforce to fill them.  Please be assured that the Worcestershire LEP is clearly focused on these key objectives.

LEP Offices and Secretariat

I am delighted to advise you all that the new LEP office and Secretariat are both up and running.  Due to the generosity of CMCA, we are now housed in Suites 1 &2, Brindley Court, Gresley Road, Warndon, Worcester WR4 9FD and we can be contacted on tel no 01905 346180 or via email and  I am sure you will all share with me a very warm welcome to Claire Bridges as Operations Officer and Stephanie Hudson as Executive Assistant, working alongside Gary Woodman.  We are also grateful both to Government and to Worcestershire’s Council’s for their funding contributions which allow us now to function much more effectively and efficiently.  Please feel free to contact the LEP as above and note that these contact details supersede any previous ones you may have been given.

Growing Places Fund

Since the last Bulletin we have received confirmation that our approach to awarding funding from this revolving loan fund is acceptable to Government and that our allocated sum is in fact slightly higher than anticipated, at about £3.8m.  Much progress has been made in assessing the appropriate recipient projects for this funding and we are well in advance of most LEPs in that regard.  We have now received presentations from the six projects that were shortlisted by the appointed public/private panel and we expect to advise the successful recipients shortly, subject of course to a final due diligence exercise that the County Council as stakeholders will require to carry out before funds are handed over.  We are very excited about the potential outcome as we believe we have identified good ‘shovel ready’ projects that will quickly come to fruition and create new jobs.

Liaison with other LEPs

Through a series of events, I have now had discussions with about 25 of the other 38 LEP Chairs and I am most encouraged with the comparative progress made by the Worcestershire LEP on many fronts.  It is easy to beat ourselves up on what we may not have yet achieved, but in comparison with others we are envied as being in a good place in many respects.  Our comparatively slim LEP Board is certainly a positive in comparison, our progress in defining funding priorities under the Growing Places Fund is near the front of the field, the independent location and staffing of the Secretariat is where many others would like to be, and our now well defined priorities and focus are also well up with the game.  Specifically, the six West Midlands LEPs’ Chairs have met several times, from which have stemmed draft planning protocols, responses to the UKTI draft MOU for inward investment, joint working on strategic transport issues (and subsequently budget allocations together with highways authorities), and a number of other emerging matters.  Our representatives (Nick Scroggs and Gary Woodman) on the joint working group with Jaguar Landrover, especially in respect of the new engine plant at i54 near Wolverhampton, are also working in the best interests of our automotive supply chain companies, of which there are about 120 in Worcestershire.

Worcestershire LEP Board and Business Board Workshops

Members of the LEP Board, the Business Board and other key Partners held a facilitated workshop and dinner, hosted most generously by Worcester Bosch on the evening of February 1st and the LEP Board met again for a further facilitated session throughout the following morning.  The purpose of such sessions was to review our mission and vision, the LEP’s priorities, structure, strategy and forward programme.  The resultant conclusions included an endorsement of the present structure, now supported by the Secretariat, a reconfirmation of the key roles and priorities and a unanimous view that we should work to provide not just a LEP output and image but an overall Countywide message. That principle needs to be developed and refined but it will draw on all resources and skills available across the public, business and third sectors as appropriate.  Worcestershire needs to raise its profile and sell itself as a total entity.

Business in the Community and Prince’s Trust

On 31st January I had the honour of representing the LEP at a reception and workshop in St James’s Palace by the kind invitation of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales.  LEP Chairs from across England were given presentations on the work of these organizations and how they could assist LEPs in tackling some of the employment issues that we face, particularly with younger people.  Prince Charles and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, both contributed to the discussion and I hope that we are able to arrange a future event in Worcestershire at which key representative of both BITC and the Prince’s Trust can address the potential for collaboration across our County.

LEP Business Board

At its meeting on Wednesday last, 15th February, the Business Board received interesting presentations from David Onions on the work of the Worcestershire County Council Statistics and Intelligence Unit, which revealed the depth and quality of information available, and from Nicky Griffiths of the Chamber of commerce on the work to date of the LEP’s Inward investment Strategy sub group.  The latter is making excellent progress towards recommending the essentials needed to provide and maintain a ‘red carpet treatment’ service to would-be inward and indigenous investors in Worcestershire.  The Board also received feedback from the LEP workshops and has challenged itself to review its representative makeup and balance.  Further support on the Business Board in the areas of ‘access to finance’, particularly for smaller businesses, and in Further Education were highlighted, and we are keen to hear of suitable candidates who would be interested in joining the Board to cover these or other key disciplines.  We shall shortly be issuing wider invitations in this respect.

LEP Business Conference

The Conference is now imminent and will commence at 9am this Thursday, 23rd February, at Sixways.  At the time of writing I understand that we have well over 175 registered attendees but there are a few places still available, so please call the Secretariat quickly if you have not yet registered.  The Conference will celebrate the LEP’s achievements to date, will hear from successful entrepreneurs including Cecil Duckworth, who 50 years ago founded what is now Worcester Bosch, will learn more on available apprenticeship schemes, and finally will hear how and where the LEP is planning to focus its priorities in the year to come.  I hope to see you all there.

West Midlands MEPs

On Friday 17th February the Business Board Chairman, Tony Hyde, and myself met with the three Conservative West Midlands MEPs, Malcolm Harbour, Phillip Bradbourn and Anthea McIntyre.  Following a presentation on the LEP’s work to date and plans ahead, we received strong promises of support and tangible information on the availability of European funds and methods of access to it.  It will be one of our objectives to maximize such funding opportunities and other support for the benefit of Worcestershire.

Future Events and Dates

22nd Feb                 Shenstone Group environment sub group @ County Hall

23rd Feb                 Worcestershire LEP Ist Annual Conference @ Sixways 9am till 1pm

24th Feb                 Wyre Forest  DC ‘State of the Area Debate’ @ Stourport Sports Club 1pm to 3pm

28th Feb                 Place Shaping Group @ Malvern Hills Science Park 2pm to 4pm

1st March               LEP Board at LEP HQ 3.30pm to 5.30pm

2nd March               Institution of Civil Engineers, National Infrastructure Plan briefing, Birmingham

6th March               Shenstone Group @ Hindlip Police HQ, 9.15am to 1.30pm

9th March               Rail Franchise Workshop @ County Hall 9am to 12noon

12th/13th March     DCLG Local Economic Growth workshops @ Eland House, Westminster

21st March             North Worcestershire Business Engagement workshop with GB&SLEP tba

28th March             LEP Business Board tba

29th March             West Midlands LEPs Chairs’ meeting Birmingham, 7.30am to 9.30am

29th March             LEP Board @ LEP HQ 3.30pm to 5.30pm

30th March             International Exports Event @ Bosch