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Seven steps for councils to create a really thriving economy

In this post, Kellie Beirne, our Chief Officer for Regeneration and Culture, explains her philosophy on creating business growth and how the council has taken an enterprising approach to economic development.

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“Monmouthshire is a place that inspires opportunity, innovation and free-thinking. We want Monmouthshire’s culture of enterprise to make us the natural choice for a dynamic mix. So here I outline the steps we’re taking here in Monmouthshire to enable and cultivate a culture of enterprise in the county.

Start off with a bias: it helps focus

In everything we do, we have a presumption in favour of business and show that Monmouthshire’s exceptional quality of life is underpinned by a strong social and financial capital; high-value jobs, creative energy and the civic mindedness of our people. Stimulating enterprise underpins a learning and skills agenda that will develop our workforce and grow our business success stories of the future.

Be ambitious: start a new chapter for economic development

It’s time for Monmouthshire to re-dream and re-position its economic future and this requires a new community leadership that drives social entrepreneurship.

We are the second most economically competitive area in Wales and, after the capital, have the second highest number of knowledge based and creative businesses. Our SME sector is strong and resilient and continues to insulate us from the worse effects of economic downturn.

Monmouthshire is also home to the most qualified population in Wales and proportionally, has more people in work than anywhere else in the country.

However, we may have comparatively low levels of worklessness, but our weekly median income levels are amongst the lowest in Wales and the UK.

Monmouthshire is part of Wales, but also, is intrinsically linked to England and thus, our economic geography positions us to wider advantage. In our Welsh context we are surrounded by some of the least competitive areas in the UK and yet our nearest English neighbours are amongst some of the most competitive UK cities and regions. Irrespective of the geography, our comparators must be those at the top end of the scale and not those at the bottom.

The reality of public finance constraint means that for local authorities, the only certainty in uncertain times is our own resourcefulness. Working effectively in this new climate is not about surviving – it is about thriving.

We are starting to think and work differently; to see that behind adversity lies opportunity and understanding how to more effectively fill the space that exists between public-private-third sectors. Adapting to an uncertain climate means a new world of commercial opportunity.

Don’t just get the right people for the job – bring in the experts: Monmouthshire Enterprise

We’ve developed a unique partnership with business development and economic innovation experts Venture Wales. We believe supporting business means getting experienced and knowledgeable business leaders to work with us. The newly-born partnership Monmouthshire Enterprise is Wales’ first enterprise partnership between a local authority and a private sector agency and the new vehicle for our economic development function.

Some of the most economically competitive local authorities in the UK have developed commercial brands that help sell, develop and advance the economic offer and vibrancy of their places.

Such brands and portals are run by local authorities – significantly, they are not public service-centric and perform an independent market interventionist role. Monmouthshire Enterprise aims to take this one step further by establishing a brand that is genuinely co-owned and transcends public-private and community sectors and becomes Monmouthshire’s main enterprise, investment and innovation vehicle.

The goals of Monmouthshire Enterprise are to become self-funding through external income, fees, rental revenues and assets and to:

  • Plan and deliver long-term smart and sustainable economic growth
  • Strategically position Monmouthshire for longer-term success
  • Provide direct and specialist support for business, including helping local existing businesses overcome short-term shocks
  • Help to accelerate major infrastructure and regeneration projects
  • Market and promote Monmouthshire’s quality of life and vibrant communities and their role in nurturing social and financial capital, creative energy and a mix of businesses, not-for-profit agencies and entrepreneurs
  • Develop an interactive website and business directory that are user friendly and a 24-7 shop-front for our offer
  • Gather evidence, information and market intelligence
  • Provide business account manager services and agency support
  • Develop and deliver ‘investor readiness’ support packages

Be proud of achievements: then build on them

Since the birth of Monmouthshire Enterprise our county’s chambers of commerce are reporting that retail in Monmouthshire is booming and bucking the national trend.

For instance Monmouth has had twelve new businesses open their doors this autumn and an expected a shop occupancy rate of 99%. Two independent retailers have told Monmouth Chamber of Commerce that October was their best trading month in 25 years in business.

Monmouthshire Enterprise is set to accelerate this performance, with many more enterprises in the pipeline over the coming months, including a high-profile rural skills centre planned in the area by TV presenter Kate Humble and her producer husband, Ludo.

Projections for Monmouthshire Enterprise’s first year stated that the partnership would help create 29 start-up companies with a combined first-year turnover of £1.01million, generating 45 new jobs straight away.

However, in its first six months alone, it has already yielded 17 new businesses with a combined turnover of £1.4 million; creating a total of 58 jobs. In addition it has enabled these fledgling enterprises to raise £660,000 in private start-up funding, double the original forecast. The partnership is also working with 17 existing local companies to help them grow and create just over 100 new jobs, and with 12 prospective inward investors who have registered interest in setting up in Monmouthshire with plans for a total of 126 new jobs.

We’re off to a good start.

Grab the future opportunities

An economy that is dependent on a small number of sectors will always be vulnerable to economic instability.

Sustainable and successful economies are built on a wide range of sectors providing a variety of jobs and business opportunities for a diverse and skilled population. Currently, our economy is predicated mainly on the agricultural, recreation, food and tourism sectors. As a result of the nature and positioning of these sectors and their fundamental relationship with sustainable development, significant potential has also been identified for diversification into low carbon and renewable technologies and the creative digital industry. It is this kind of integrated and diverse economy that we see as key to delivering the required step change in Monmouthshire’s future economic performance and relative strength.

The future opportunity for Monmouthshire is thus, in two parts.

Part 1 must be a focus on the existing sectors that demonstrate potential for diversification and growth. Food, tourism and agricultural sectors must be specifically targeted for growth since they will contribute to attracting high value added investment within the major towns and settlements. There is a real opportunity to heighten the future relevance of these sectors by linking them strongly to the green and digital economies of the future. This must include opportunities for green-farming and ecological rural skills development; sustainable food production and growing the local food supply network and digital and eco-tourism.

Part 2 of the proposition is a natural extension of this theme, building on the sustainability platform through more targeted activity in developing the potential for a low carbon future and renewable forms of energy production, alongside synergistic and newly emerging digital technologies.

We want to position Monmouthshire as the ‘Green and Connected Gateway’ to Wales, the UK and anywhere in the world. Growth will be targeted in low carbon and renewable technologies such as wind, solar and hydro-power because they will serve existing activity and sectors as well as having the ability to be developed in their own right.

Significant development will also be focussed on complementary digital industries that promote broadband as the fourth utility; support technology rich living and learning and the location and advance of a range of high order blue chip businesses.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it – using our unique selling points and drivers for future growth

There are a number of assets and drivers relevant to our ambitions for Monmouthshire Enterprise:

  • An unrivalled quality of life. Monmouthshire offers the highest standard of living and well-being in Wales and also has a good quality and variety of housing stock, the backdrop for which is a unique natural environment. Such critical assets are key attractions to businesses and employees.
  • A strong skills base: a high level of skills within the local population coupled with good schools and access to learning and training
  • An entrepreneurial culture. Monmouthshire has an inherent sense of enterprise is home to a large number of highly influential serial entrepreneurs. The micro-business base is strong and there is a palpable spirit of entrepreneurship evident in a number of businesses and commercial sectors
  • Strategic positioning and gateway status: there is unique potential for Monmouthshire to establish a more prominent position within the cross boundary regional economy. With good physical infrastructure and links and potential for universal high-speed broadband coverage, Monmouthshire is a Welsh local authority with a wider UK and global outlook
  • Strategic alignment with the University of Wales and the opportunity that exists to integrate economic growth with the new business and enterprise models being explored by the well- respected institution
  • Continued growth of the third-community sector as major players and contributors to social enterprise development
  • A strong tourism offer; a growing ‘foodie’ pedigree and a strong agricultural base all offer opportunities for diversification and enhancement through linkages with the green and digital growth economies of the future. The ‘future-proofing’ of traditional sectors through synergies with new growth sectors will heighten the relevance of the existing offer
  • A real council and sector-wide commitment to Monmouthshire Enterprise and pursuing a service transformation agenda. Back2Business Week was a strong statement of intent that conveyed our powerful new presumption in favour of business

Knock down the walls: to make sure it all happens

There are barriers to overcome and a plan is needed. We are:

  • Focussing on building a strong internal presence and working with other departments and services within the council to help them understand that every team and function has a role to play in enterprise. Ensuring infrastructure development is intellectual and attractive to future generations;
  • Ensuring the message about business permeates the whole-authority picture. Living the message that Monmouthshire Enterprise is about a whole authority approach and lifting it out of conventional structures so that it transcends departmental boundaries;
  • Implementing the ‘Intrapreneurship programme’ with the first tranche of 250 officers. Providing the space and permission for people to think differently and understand how they might combine their passion for delivering social good with a business-like discipline;
  • Ensuring synergies with new house building and in particular, driving up levels of affordable housing provision. Housing is both cause and effect of economic prosperity because it creates jobs and therefore a workforce that requires accommodation. The quality, variety and affordability of housing is essential to the economic health of Monmouthshire; and,
  • Making best use of transport system and ensuring closer working between transport planning, highways and Monmouthshire Enterprise.”
Photo from Flickr by craigmdennis http://www.flickr.com/photos/craigmdennis/
Photo from Flickr by craigmdennis http://www.flickr.com/photos/craigmdennis/
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4 thoughts on “Seven steps for councils to create a really thriving economy”

  1. Global Academy, at the University of Wales, is excited at the prospect of working with MCC on their new innovation, intrapreneurship and fully sustainable development initiatives.
    Whilst MCC and Global Academy primarily see change in Wales coming via the private sector it is also hugely encouraging to see MCC embracing open Government, open data, genuine open innovation and best practice in public policy.

  2. This is all good – if you can believe the rhetoric. And yet….

    For a depressing reminder of how Monmouthshire County Council works in reality…. A council that is disconnected from its own diverse communities and their ‘ecologies'; that conducts its strategy on a ‘decide-announce-defend’ basis; that manipulates systems and public funds to get its way: that ignores local opinion and ‘evidence led’ policy making; that is in thrall to big names and big business instead of building and sustaining local communities and local enterprise. http://abergavennymarketfutures.wordpress.com/

    This story is a microcosm of local government at its worst. So until you address the difficult issues in your current reality, your fine words will simply ring hollow and foster cynicism amongst local people.

  3. Thanks Sue for your comments. As you can see from my post, we are striving to help build a truly successful and sustainable economy and we are sorry you think the way that this one issue has been delivered is contrary to our philosophy. We are changing the way we work and of course we think that the subject of regenerating Abergavenny is a critical factor in improving lives for people in the county.

    We do accept that the council will never be able to please everyone who has an interest in this issue but we are doing what we can to regenerate the town with the support of many people who don’t have always get an opportunity to have a voice in the debate. Already we have seen a boost to the economy since we’ve implemented our changes (for example http://walesandwest.com/?p=2952) and we are acting on making our vision reality. We hope that working with communities and business we will be able to create a county we are all proud of.

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