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Herefordshire Business Board - Business Summit 28th Feb 2014 - Feedback


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Herefordshire Business Board hosted an event on Friday 28th February to consult and give businesses the opportunity to shape and influence the Strategic Economic Plan for Herefordshire and the wider Marches area.

Graham Wynn, the chair of the Marches LEP and Alistair Neill, the Chief Executive of Herefordshire Council addressed the event to give their unique view of the challenges we face.

Feedback from the breakout sessions at the Summit will be used to respond to the Marches LEP consultation and to inform future economic plans in Herefordshire

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Herefordshire Business Board - Business Summit 28th Feb 2014 - Feedback

  1. 1. Herefordshire Business Board Business Summit of 28th February 2014 Break out session Feedback Broadband HBB Lead: John Jones Support: Matt Smith  The availability of superfast broadband is helping to sell the county to the outside world, who require it for business use, and relocation of their families (Mark Pearce, EZ).  Business uptake within the county is very low, it is of far more concern to those looking to relocate, this is evidenced by the fact that none of the delegates who came to the table could be described as a coming from a genuine private sector business.  It is vital for the farming community, who have concerns over the ‘final mile’. By 2015 government will require electronic returns from farms, it will also restrict diversification for the more innovative farms and limit access to market information.  There is consensus that in order to be future proof we must be over ambitions at this point, if we get behind the curve now we will never have the opportunity or money to catch up. o There are still concerns that the base line 2Meg to 100% of properties is not ambitious enough. o Likewise 90% on superfast at 30Meg leaves too many businesses without adequate speed. o There are also concerns that the notional levels that are advertised as being available via a cabinet, are not in reality possible, especially when contention rates are factored in.  The importance for education should not be forgotten, with adequate access at our more rural school locations, and sufficient speed at residential addresses to complete homework.  The creative economy can thrive with adequate broadband, which allows them to instantly export to anywhere in the world. Designers, film makers and musicians where referenced as examples (Richard Heatley, Arts College) An observation An interesting observation was how few people choose to come to the Broadband table. The point was made that 2 years ago, broadband was a topic that got people hot under the collar, from which you can infer that perhaps people are happy that adequate progress is being made in this area.
  2. 2. Business Support HBB Lead: Joseph Connor Support: Nick Webster People want business support that:  Will help to increase their turnover to fund further employment  Can easily be found in one place and which is presented as cohesive integrated range of services.  Will provide access to people with a preparedness to grow and represent the firm they join.  Enables access very competitive flexible low cost accommodation and support services (i.e. an innovation hub)  Access to advisers that under their specific sector needs (i.e. Food, farming, defence et al)  Recognises that self-employed people with the preparedness and the skills to start a business are equally as important as academically qualified people who are employable. Construction HBB Lead: Phil Collins Support: Andrew Ashcroft  Contribution of construction to the Herefordshire economy – to what extent will construction of the scale anticipated sustain / extend local jobs  Concern about the low wages and in particular our own experiences of the unwillingness of Hereford Council to use local contractors. If these local companies were given a fair shot at some of this work we could improve the management structures and create better paid job opportunities. We have had plenty of discussions and a few seminars on this subject and we have not really got passed the lip-service stage. Councils seem to be bound by Framework agreements and are unwilling to try to work at the ‘Best Value’ arguments as in most cases they simply are not prepared to use any imagination or take the slightest risk. They just want to hide behind the system. Jonathan explained that the Government want to take 30% out of the cost of construction. That is a complete nonsense in the real world – there is hardly anything to play with at our level, but the public procurement system involves spending so much on indecision and delays that if it was better organised there may well be savings to be made. If we could only get a meeting with the construction industry and those within the Council who are involved in procurement, again, then it might be possible to make a difference. The example of the Archive Store is the one I used as one which could easily have been built by a local firm, yet after all the time discussing it there wasn’t time to go through a proper tendering process – as Roger Phillips explained.  The point was made about bringing in the large Framework companies who then sub-contract to their friendly subbies rather than give local companies a fair shot at it. They are then desperately slow paying and when anyone has had a taste of that it makes them very nervous about working for them again. Payment dates can be dealt with by the main contractors but if the slightest thing is wrong they tend to use that as an excuse for exaggerated delays and on-costs – although often those delays are caused by their own indecision and incompetence.  The point was made by Jonathan that we need to think outside of Herefordshire and we already do of course, but the travelling costs associated to the building world make you uncompetitive as soon as you have to travel more than about 35 miles. Herefordshire construction companies being equipped / empowered to tender for contracts outside of Herefordshire  Jonathan also explained how construction costs are cheaper in America but those of us who have seen some of the houses in America can see why – if they are built to our standards I suspect the costs would be no different. Competiveness of Herefordshire construction businesses in relation to national businesses. Links to: o High on-costs o Low critical mass o Quality thresholds on health and safety
  3. 3. Education, Employability and Skills Lead: Phil Round Support: Alexia Heath  Needs to be Private Sector led. Employers need to be in the driving seat and articulate their needs (how do we enable this to happen, how do we get the engagement in Herefordshire time = £ ? business support - organisational needs analysis). Education and training providers need to be responsive to those needs.  Need to be more ambitious with timescales. There is an immediate challenge in the current workforce with basic skills and to find staff at the right level now as well as in the future. Question: What are the challenges we want to address through this theme?  Location and transport is a barrier for attracting potential employees and for offering opportunities such as work placements/work experience.  Low level skills (English and Maths) in the current workforce and the potential workforce is a barrier to business growth and further and inward investment into the local economy.  Current workforce also has families of their own how do they support their children if they have their own basic skills needs and do not see relevance/importance of education and training?  Along with the need to increase attainment in English and Maths questions were raised by business over relevance of taught curriculum to include commercial awareness, understanding organisations and applied business relevant maths.  League tables/national curriculum seen as a barrier to re-thinking and re-designing curriculum.  Schools need businesses to commit to and support young people to build their confidence and develop the skills that they will need to succeed.  Government funding rules for different age groups was seen as confusing and a barrier.  With 86% of Herefordshire businesses employing 10 or less employees how can these employers be encouraged and supported to develop their workforce? Concerns over the government’s plans for apprenticeship delivery in the future and impact on SMEs and apprenticeships in Herefordshire.  How do we utilise the talent of young people who are NEET and under-employed?  Discussion took place about the cultural shift – employers were saying that some young people see work differently should employers change their approach to engaging young people, supporting them to find their feet first before offering formal training.  Challenge Herefordshire employers could take their businesses elsewhere to get the skills and the ability of the workforce that they need. Question: are the SEP priorities right for Herefordshire? Yes but more emphasis on Employers being in the driving seat and leading – in the SEP strengthen 4.3 The Skills Proposal by adding Establish mechanism for employers to articulate their training needs for providers to respond to. The Marches vision regarding skills is to have a growing economy supported by a skilled and flexible workforce where young people can realise their potential. The LEP has a central role in ensuring that the skills agenda has a high priority amongst local businesses and stakeholders. The development of the Marches Skills Plan is underpinned by the principles of collaboration and engagement with partners from across the LEP area, which marks an important step in the process. The aim is to create an efficient and effective infrastructure to support skills development in the Marches, which in turn will provide clear strategic leadership and direction. To do this, we propose a range of integrated activities that will:  Align the range of activities and interventions
  4. 4. which partners undertake;  Effectively communicate and promote what is available to employers and the workforce; and  Develop and co-ordinate interventions to address specific local needs. Add the following:  The third sector has a role to play and is a significant sector in Herefordshire for employment, education and training delivery, engagement and support.  More emphasis and focus on NEET/youth unemployment and underemployment needed.  Q and A session: The creative economy is a significant sector and is not currently included - Richard Heatly from Hereford College of Art to provide information.  Q and a session: How do we enthuse and motivate young people in schools at an early age especially through STEM activities and develop entrepreneurship? This needs to be reflected in the priorities. General Comments The draft document itself was felt to be dis-jointed and did not flow. It needed to be more ambition. Some commented that they felt that it was more Shropshire focused and should be rebalanced. There seemed to be an imbalance of case studies e.g. Harper Adams and comments about how Harper Adams supported Herefordshire. How do we ensure that employers are engaged and that the employer voice is heard? Additional Comments from Rural Hub and NFU relating to skills:  Concerns about levels of English and Maths, employability skills, work ethic and motivation.  the need for higher level skills and use of new technology.  Perception of farming, image issue  Need for knowledge transfer within the sector e.g. soil management  Need to promote learning and the benefit to business  Management of staff  Traditional skills development such as hedging. – succession planning – business opportunity  Harper Adams – centre of excellence for How will this benefit Herefordshire? Environment HBB Lead: Cathy Meredith Support: Bill Bloxsome The following points were made during the break-out session within the ‘Environment’ group:  Safeguarding the environment and economic growth are not incompatible or mutually exclusive. However to concentrate on economic growth at the expense of or without considering properly the environment of the County would be detrimental to the prospects for growth. The environment of the County is probably its greatest asset. It distinguishes it from ‘Anyshire’. It ought to be used more positively as a promotional tool. The proposition was advanced that if the environment is not right, you will not get the growth you are seeking.  There is certainly a need to improve some of the basic infrastructure serving the County – transport, housing, employment sites, etc. This can be done in association with mitigation or compensation where necessary development is required and the least adverse option taken.  A ‘Herefordshire proposition’ was suggested that indicated ‘notwithstanding the issues of transport difficulties and housing deficits, businesses have been attracted to the area substantially because of the quality of the environment and the benefits to health and wellbeing.  There appears to be no recognition that the environment and quality of life in the County is a resource that can be used for economic growth. The document should set out a vision for the environment, encompassing its countryside, towns, etc. and show how we can take advantage of these assets. There seems to be no link between the environment and economy within the document. An example is how do we integrate promotion of tourism
  5. 5. with the economy? Tourism is a key industrial sector. Planning and managing development is important whereas the document concentrates simply on building houses and developing industrial land, omitting any reference to using what we have.  The definition of the ‘Low Carbon Economy’ in the SEP is too narrow. There will be a need to adapt and the effects of climate change might make Herefordshire a better place to live/move to. There is a need for an ‘Adaptation Strategy’ to address this issue, among others, that might feed into the SEP. Herefordshire has a number of large businesses who are active in the green economy sector such as Rehau and Kingspan.  There is no provision in the strategy to address energy supply issues, suggesting the degree to which the area (and County) might become self-sufficient, types of energy that might be generated, relevance of bio-energy, and community based energy infrastructure. It should suggest whose roll it might be to address energy strategy. In addition energy conservation attempts are poor and this should be addressed.  There is a need to invest in agriculture/land based industries to tackle issues such as phosphates and adaptation to climate change. There is a need to work at the ‘right level’ and through the ‘right people’. Thought might be given about how to work within Catchment Sensitive Areas.  Drafting a SEP for the Marches area was seen as a difficult job and it was probable that the priorities identified were correct. However there was a feeling that it did not capture the more detailed requirements for Herefordshire.  Environmental assets should be an underpinning theme and this does not come across in the strategy. Funding and Finance HBB Lead: Andy Edwards Support: Peter Robinson Key points  Lack of communication  Lack of “signposting” to where financial support might be available  There doesn’t appear to be a cohesive strategy between providers to promote and deliver support to their target market.  HCAT – appears to have been advised that the “LEP is the route for all capital funding” wants to understand how he can engage with LEP to make a bid for capital project  Consensus around the table – availability of grants not well publicised/promoted. Information not easy to find.  Allpay “Education not joined up”. Schools somehow need to be “incentivised” to prepare leavers for the outside, commercial world.  LEP (summit aside) not proactive. Other issues Western route over emphasised – more attention should be given to eastern route Rail into Rotherwas should also be considered. Potential Solutions  Worcestershire runs an “Access to finance” group (includes involvement by the WLEP). Could we recreate in Herefordshire?  The group includes accountants, solicitors, the LEP, intermediaries, providers etc. This would potentially tick the pro-active, signposting, communicative issues.  For larger Herefordshire businesses should there be some kind of LEP liaison officer? Their role would be to make sure that our businesses were actively encouraged to pursue grant funding opportunities.  Programmes to educate business owners, Funding for “small business” education would be helpful. (Lending clinics).  Quarterly meetings by the banks to address the key issues for small businesses.  We need a regular “rhythms of business” event where we have collaboration between public sector (to promote grants) and private sectors suppliers.
  6. 6. Housing HBB Lead: Jonathan Hines Support: Trea Connon  Land availability in the County  Councillors / Planning committee – how willing to grant permission. Tension, also local communities anti it. Growth agenda not what people bought into yet – don’t want it. Hearts and minds.  Not enough mention of communities in the plan - thinking and culture must underpin to move forward.  Council have to commit. Can’t expect private sector to move if Council not prepared to support. Racecourse example – small part of racecourse for housing (100% of profit for developing the racecourse). Needs support but Councillors not willing to consider. 70 units. Need to be bolder. Need to be clearer about why Council don’t support it.  Issue about benefit to local economy – want short supply chain not basic houses on big estates. Build locally etc  Low energy, local economy – families in very poor, very expensive housing  Neighbourhood plans – communities will be in driving seat to some extent but some issues too large. Transport and Infrastructure HBB Lead: Neil Kerr Support: Richard Ball The group had a wide ranging discussion which recognised the importance of transport infrastructure as a key facilitator of economic growth. There was broad agreement around the need for the Hereford City Link Road. This was considered important to support the continued retail and housing development. It was also considered important to support internal traffic circulation and the expansion of the city centre. Infrastructure to support the development of the Enterprise Zone was considered essential. It was recognised that this should include the proposed road link from A49 Ross Road to A465 Abergavenny Road and a package of sustainable transport measures alongside. The new Greenway Bridge across the River Wye to Rotherwas was welcomed as an important improvement for pedestrians and cyclists. The value of the Rotherwas Access road which was provided in recent years was particularly recognised following the recent severe weather which caused flooding on the old access route via Holme Lacy Road. A range of views were expressed regarding further road infrastructure needs to support the growth of Hereford. It was recognised that the Council’s emerging Local Development Framework includes a relief road which would provide a north south route around the west of the city to facilitate housing growth. There was general support for a relief road although some expressed a preference for an eastern route. There were also views expressed that plans should also include a further extension of the Rotherwas Access road eastwards across the River Wye to the Ledbury Road to further improve access to the Enterprise Zone. This was not supported by all and views varied. The discussion ranged and included whether such a link should be a long term aspiration, or whether it should be given priority over the western relief road for the city or not. There was a general view expressed that transport infrastructure was a key constraint on growth of the city and the Enterprise Zone and that the LEP should seek to do everything it could to accelerate the delivery programme over the next five to ten years.