The past 3 weeks have seen a number of key actions and important milestones reached in the life of the LEP with a successful Inaugural Conference and the key decisions made relating to the Growing Places Fund, in the latter case as one of the first LEPs in the country to do so. This all bodes well for ongoing progress and real achievement but we have much, much more to do in realizing the full potential that exists in Worcestershire, and therefore turning that potential into new jobs and a stronger economy.
The LEP Inaugural Conference
Held at Sixways during the morning of Thursday 23rd February, the conference received many positive messages in respect to progress and achievements to date. Many respondents to the feedback form and those on twitter felt that they now understand the structure and objectives of the LEP. We were delighted that the conference attracted about 200 delegates, mostly from businesses within the county, who were able to hear not only my report for the year but also a range of fascinating presentations from:
- Cecil Duckworth, founder of what is now Worcester Bosch – a senior entrepreneur.
- Neil Westwood, founder of Magic Whiteboard in Worcester and one of the few truly successful recipients of financial and business assistance from TVs Dragons Den – a young entrepreneur.
- Julia Bakewell, National Apprenticeship Service – on opportunities for young people
- Phil Dutton, Handelsbanken – on funding for businesses
- Mike Ashton, CEO of H&W Chamber of Commerce – on Destination Worcestershire’s focus on increased tourism across the county
- Ahmed Goga, Worcestershire’s new Head of Economic Development & Strategic Planning
So far so good, but I believe we now need some focused events on specific sectors, together with a further overall update in six rather than twelve months from now.
Growing Places Fund
Should any of you not have seen the recent announcements regarding this revolving loan fund, the LEP Board has so far approved four loans but has held over half a million back from our £3.8m allocation in order to address further schemes that may come to light quickly in the months ahead. All four projects reflect the prime purpose of the fund which is to assist in the cost of infrastructure which will in turn accelerate the development of projects that will create new jobs and boost the economy. They are all ‘shovel ready’ and should start between now and the autumn. The awards are all subject to final due diligence and are as follows:
- Hoo Brook Link Road, Kidderminster – £1.2m towards the cost of stage one of this route which will open up the former British Sugar site for mixed housing and employment development. It is hoped that this sum will be matched by a similar award by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP, in which Wyre Forest District Council is also a component part.
- Springhill Nurseries, Lower Moor near Pershore – £275k towards construction of a new roundabout on A44 to access an Anaerobic Digestor Plant for which planning approval has been received.
- Worcestershire County Cricket Club, New Road – £750k towards infrastructure serving their new hospitality, administration, conferencing and spectator facilities in conjunction with a new hotel.
- University of Worcester – £1m towards the main access road into the 47acre University Park which is to be built at Grove farm, Worcester, and which will include a community health centre, doctors’ surgery, care home and wellbeing campus in its first phase.
Together they should create at least 500 jobs in the short term with potential for at least 2000 more in time.
The LEP Board fully endorses and welcomes the work now being undertaken by the Shenstone Group in looking to the longer tem future of Worcestershire. In conjunction with the county’s youth cabinet, it is taking a ‘next generation’ view of the key issues affecting Worcestershire in 25 – 30 years time. This visionary work fully complements the LEPs more immediate priorities and puts into perspective many of the issues confronting the decision makers in the county. Not least amongst these is the issue of an ageing population and the consequent need for us to create more job opportunities for young people, not only in tacking current unemployment levels but also in order to sustain in the longer term sufficient revenue to the public purse in order to retain if not improve public services, particularly to our older residents.
Future Events and Dates
12th/13th March DCLG Local Economic Growth workshops @ Eland House, Westminster
21st March North Worcestershire Business Engagement workshop with GB&SLEP
28th March LEP Business Board @ 5:30pm to 7:30pm The Community Housing Group
3 Foley Grove, Foley Business Park, Kidderminster, Worcs DY11 7PT
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 @ Sixways