Business and the economy in Gloucestershire 2019

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
19th December 2018

Looking forward to the world in Gloucestershire next year, I picked up the Economist’s World in 2019 special magazine.

I was searching for some inspiration but I am afraid I didn’t find much at all.

In the section on Britain, The Economist’s Brexit editor John Peet writes:

“Brexit will again dominate British politics in 2019. Britain’s departure from the European Union, endorsed by voters in 2016, sucks the life out of all other political and economic concerns.”

I think that prediction for next year is absolutely right. It has been the same this year.

The very life of our economy has and is being sucked dry by Brexit.

And if we are not careful here in Gloucestershire, it will destroy ideas as unworkable and too difficult to contemplate.

We simply must not allow our domestic economy and the future of our young people in Gloucestershire to be sucked dry by the tentacles of Brexit which will, if we allow it  andwill be an excuse for not attempting almost anything.

So, I believe we need to be brave.

We need to step up to the plate because our army of over 350 councillors in our county council and six district councils will not - with a few exceptions - be leading the line.

We have seen that with the Vision of 2050 for Gloucestershire which I believe is so important for our young people’s future.

It is these young people - by the county council’s own admission - who are leaving the county at the rate of 400 a year - most never to return.

The big Vision, which I personally endorse as a set of aspirations - not necessarily the projects themselves - has now to be taken forward with enthusiasm.

Not just by councillors but by the young people themselves, and I would like to see a proper Young Gloucestershire Board set up to drive their ideas forward.

It is not a brilliant idea.

It is an obvious idea that should have been done in the first place earlier this year when the  2050 project was announced.

If we are not careful, the 2050 Vision will go into the long grass.

That would probably not be the case if we had a proper unitary structure of council governance in this county with a reduction in the number of our councils.

But that is an argument that shows no sign of being looked at by the politicians who think everything is fine.

It is not.

Turkeys voting for Christmas?

What I am most looking forward to in the coming year is the development of an Industrial Strategy for Gloucestershire by our Local Enterprise Partnership, GFirstLEP.

I have to declare a special interest here as I have been appointed to the LEP’s main board as small business champion.

To me, the Industrial Strategy, which has been ordered by government for each of the LEPs in the UK, must be all embracing of this county’s challenges to grow our economy.

There must be no hiding places for difficult challenges. 

The 2050 Vision must be part of the  overall umbrella of these vital plans for the future.

Brexit and its continued ramifications over the next few years must be put aside.

We must find the right keys to open the doors to grow Gloucestershire’s economy.

And there are several keys we need to try.

One of the most important keys is for skills. 

We have a very unhealthy skills gap in a county where the jet engine was born, and which has always had a worldwide reputation for precision engineering with major companies like Renishaw.

Opening the skills door is going to be damned difficult.

But a start has to be made at the very root of the problem - developing our young people far earlier in terms of their employablity aspirations.

We are going to need far more emphasis on vocational education. We simply have to get schools to realise that an academic path to higher education or university is not always right.

And as an ex-apprentice myself, I feel that an apprenticeship is now something of a badge of honour to be desired.

And the excellent further education colleges here in the county simply must get more help from the government to develop those apprenticeships.

Whitehall must also give more clarity to the apprenticeship levy. Further education generally has to get a bigger slice of the cash cake from the government - they should not be the poor cousins to the universities which have received far more funding.

In the coming year, I think Gloucestershire needs to reinforce its credentials to become a centre of cyber excellence.

As I have said, this is a county with engineering prowess. But we now have to move on and use those skills in a worldwide market of digital engineering that is epitomised by GCHQ as a centre of excellence.

We have a new University Business & Technology School to develop and harness these cyber skills and a new Cyber Park is planned for Cheltenham, of course.

This is a new dawn for our economy in Gloucestershire and it must be developed well from the start or this park is in danger of becoming just another business park with warehouses.

Cyber will obviously be an important part of the LEP’s Industrial Strategy to grow our economy but we must address some fundamentals in this county to take ourselves forward.

We simply have to put a spotlight on how we educate our young people and highlight the skills they will need for employability.

We cannot stand still on education where we have areas near the top and also near the bottom of the latest Social Mobility league.

And we have to ensure that our young people start to have a real stake in the future of Gloucestershire.

Otherwise, the world of 2019 will start to leave Gloucestershire behind.

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