Whilst April’s weather has been dire, the business forecasts have been little better on the national front. But is it all so gloomy? Not so, say many businesses in and around Worcestershire, there are some good signs in the local economy and we even have a few things to cheer about. For example, the March unemployment figures for Worcestershire, published in April showed a drop in total claimants of 455 to 11,364, a rate of 4.1% of the economically active population, compared with 6.1% for the West Midlands and with 5.8% for the whole of England. The number of 18 – 24 year olds claiming for up to 1 year also fell by 65 to 7.4% compared with8.8% for the West Midlands and 7.2% for England. Clearly we have much to do but the second phase of the excellent 100 in 100 Days apprenticeship programme, led by the Worcester News is I understand already nearing its target at the halfway stage.
Visit of Business Secretary, Vince Cable
Earlier in the month the LEP Board met with Vince Cable over a working lunch at Malvern Hills Science Park. This was an opportunity to appraise him of the LEP’s progress to date and our plans and priorities for the future. It was also an opportunity to lobby Government through him for more assistance to business growth and success and every Board Member took that opportunity.
Redditch Business Leaders
Under the leadership of Karen Lumley, MP for Redditch, the latest meeting of the group was held recently at Redditch United Football Club. Presentations were given by Worcestershire County Highways regarding their plans for Redditch and by Finance Birmingham on the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative. It was a valuable and interesting two hours but it would be good to see more businesses represented on future occasions.
Worcestershire LEP Board Meeting
The main item of business was to receive the independent assessor’s report and governance review on the LEPs progress and performance to date. Patrick McVeigh of Shared Intelligence had carried out a widespread review with Board and Business Board Members and other Partners and whilst the full contents of the report will remain confidential, the overall position was summed up as the LEP having a number of challenges, most of which are in common with many other LEPs. Communications will always be key to such organisations, not only with and between partners across both public and private sectors, but with neighbouring LEPs. Concerns had been expressed regarding the engagement with and by the northern Districts, but again this is not uncommon as there are some 17 such overlap areas across the LEP network of England. The Board agreed to the recommendations, to a delivery timetable being agreed within the next month, and to the completion of a draft business plan, communications plan and stakeholder engagement strategy for discussion and approval at the next Board Meeting on June 14th.
National LEP Network Annual Conference, London
Held at Royal Mint Court on 26th April, we joined delegates from all 39 LEPs to hear and question Secretaries of State Cable (BIS), Greening (Transport) and Pickles (CLG) together with Minister Mark Prisk (BIS) and Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, together with a host of other senior civil servants on a variety of matters. Such events are even more valuable for the networking opportunities provided not only with such VIPs but with other LEP Chairs and delegates. Vince Cable publically referred to his recent visit and meeting with us in Worcestershire on two occasions and it is quite clear that we are well up with the pace of achievement across the LEP network. Indeed it appears that we were first off the mark to award and announce the recipients of funding under the Growing Places Fund round 1. In addition we learnt from CLG officers that the joint funding with GB&SLEP provided for the Hoo Brook Link Road in Kidderminster has caught Eric Pickles eye and he is keen to assist with a high profile opening event. No room for complacency though as the challenges are still enormous, the resources limited and the needs more critical than ever.
Future Events and dates
Tuesday 8th May West Midlands LEPs Chairs’ meeting, Birmingham
Wednesday 9th May Business in the Community meeting, The Hive
Wednesday 9th May Business Board Meeting.
Wednesday 16th May Shenstone Group meeting, Redditch
Monday 21st May APPG for Local Growth, LEPs and Ent Zones, House of Commons