We have just seen the April unemployment figures for Worcestershire which show a drop in claimants of 598 to 10,766, a rate of 3.9% of the economically active population, compared with 6.7% for the West Midlands and with 5.6% for the whole of England. The number of 18 – 24 year olds claiming for up to 1 year also fell by 315 to 2,765, a rate of 6.7% compared with 8.1% for the West Midlands and 6.7% for England as a whole. It’s far too early for the LEP to be claiming any credit for such improvements and we have far to go, but it is all too easy to beat ourselves up as failing, when there are good signs around. The big challenge for us is to work with trainers and businesses in ensuring that business needs for skilled staff are being satisfied through schools and colleges. Yes, we continue to hear the anecdotal reports from business that they could grow and increase their contributions to the economy if only they could find skilled workers!
West Midlands LEP Chairs’ meeting
Gary Woodman and I attended the LEP Chairs regular meeting in Birmingham last week at which we compare ideas and issues and seek to work closely together across boundaries for the strategic and common good. High on our agenda was the effect on each LEP, if any, of changes in the local political colour of our respective local authority partners. In Worcestershire we have seen Redditch Borough become Labour controlled, whilst Wyre Forest and Worcester City both lost their clear overall control. Does that mean much change for the LEP? Probably not, with the exception of one or two key personnel. Also of high importance were proposals for devolution of local transport funding from DfT to the LEPs. Clearly there is an incentive and need for LEPs to work closely together here and with their respective highways and transport authorities.
Business in the Community
Gary and I also met last week with David Darlaston, the West Midlands Director of Business in the Community to discuss how our LEP might work with BITC in seeking to achieve our respective objectives. With the common thread being His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, David was also briefed to speak on behalf of The Prince’s Trusts, and there are a number of interesting and potentially valuable aspects to consider for Worcestershire. Watch this space.
Government’s Pinch Point Programme
The LEP, in consultation with County Highways, has responded to the Highways Agency’s invitation to bid for funding under the recently announced Pinch Point Programme. This applies to national strategic routes only, which limits it to M5, M42, M50 and A46 in Worcestershire. We have submitted a robust case for funding to significantly improve both Junctions 4 and 6 on M5, as being limiting factors against further significant development and expansion of our economy.
Cyber Security – Finditinworcestershire.com
I attended the breakfast presentation on Tuesday at Sixways by Steve Borwell-Fox who founded and heads one of the 16 or so specialist cyber security companies that have either spawned out of Qinetic or otherwise developed in and around Malvern. It was both enlightening and alarming to learn of both the extent and the ease of security breaches within all sorts of business and government today. As Directors we all have liabilities in this regard. Whilst congratulating Steve on his clear presentation and the Finditinworcestershire team for the event, I also recognise that we have here in Worcestershire a burgeoning business sector that must be encouraged to grow as one of our gems. That is another of the LEP’s challenges and opportunities.
LEP and Business Board Members
Any healthy and growing organisation needs to refresh itself on a regular basis and the LEP is no exception. The recent elections will result in one or two new public sector representatives coming onto the LEP Board but we also have other changes to make. Regrettably my deputy and Business Board Chair, Tony Hyde, has resigned due to business commitments following the acquisition of Thomas Vale Construction by French construction giant Buoygues. Tony’s time will not be his own in the months ahead but I would like to pay tribute to and thank both Tony and Thomas Vale for their massive contributions in time and facilities during the formative stages of the LEP’s existence. Tony will be sorely missed. There are 2 or 3 other resignations from the business Board also, which means that we are now advertising for a number of new members, whilst at the same time ensuring that we take this opportunity to refresh the teams, to fill gaps in our representation and also introduce an automatic rotational ‘contract’ period for all. If you are interested in being part of our organisation, or can recommend someone who would add real value, please do not hesitate to contact Gary Woodman or give me a call personally.
Future Events and dates
Wednesday 30th May Planning, Development and Infrastructure wk’shop, 08.00am, Coombers
Thursday 14th June LEP and Business Boards joint workshop – Business Plan