How today's business leaders are building the Bristol of tomorrow

Amie Vaughan
Initiative Manager - West of England Initiative
18th October 2018

Speaking at the ‘Building the Bristol of Tomorrow’ roundtable, Nigel Wilson, Group CEO of Legal & General delivered the message that as far as financing city-wide projects is concerned, cost should never be the constraining factor in terms of inclusion, skills and infrastructure. Improving the lives of customers, building a better society and creating value for shareholders alongside being committed to working with city partners is at the heart of L&G’s strategic purpose, and this is something that resonated strongly with the business community in Bristol.

It is this common sense of purpose and commitment to joined up thinking between the public and private sector that has made Bristol’s economy so successful and increasingly entrepreneurial. Dr Harry Destecroix, CEO of Unit DX, a scientific incubator in the centre of Bristol, is a passionate advocate for the city’s entrepreneurs and the vital role they will play in building the Bristol of tomorrow. 

One issue Harry spoke candidly about was life sciences in the city. According to Harry, the UK has the largest and most productive life sciences sector in Europe, however despite having a world class academic research base in Bristol, it has typically lagged behind the rest of the country when trying to commercialise it.. To resolve this talent drain from the sector Harry suggested that universities need to work hand in hand with city partners to translate academic training into real jobs and opportunities – ensuring the momentum isn’t lost which ensures proper economic outcomes. 

Mayor Marvin Rees champions the work of this industry and implored business and private investment to get behind entrepreneurs, before CEO of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, Dr Patricia Greer made the case that a strong growth narrative that includes housing, employment space and modal shifts in transport is essential for our area and to help build the better Bristol of tomorrow to attract investment. This narrative should include clear funding priorities and growth which is vital for both public and private investment, she said.

Kevin Bourner from Homes England responded saying that between now and the end of the year, an extra 1000 new homes will have been built, and in the past 18 months, over £100m worth of deals have been progressed within the private sector. This demonstrates the desire to release land and get things done within the city region.

Principal Programme Sponsor for Network Rail, Malcolm Parsons picked up on Patricia Greer’s point about transport and explained how Bristol Temple Meads has witnessed a 6% year on year growth in passenger numbers – the fastest growing station in the country. This figure is being driven by those who want to live and work in the city, showing the attractiveness that our city has to offer for students, professionals and families.

Lots of positives then in terms of building the Bristol tomorrow. However, we cannot overlook the challenges that lie ahead. 

We know too well that Bristol is a city of two halves, and Cabinet minister for Housing Paul Smith voices his concern over “major disconnected areas within our city”. Instead of importing talent and skills from across the country or waters, we should nurture the population on our doorstep to fulfil those skills shortages and perhaps now is the time to engage those lost communities and encourage new Entrepreneurial Spirit within those areas.

UWE and University of Bristol were both represented at the roundtable and quote there must be a paradox lying between business and the unemployed – UWE churning out 7000 graduates a year with 50% of their overall student population from the area and 50% staying in the area after graduation, means there is a ready-made workforce available in freshly-graduated bodies. So why is there this disconnect from student to industry? 

This is why it is key that industry helps to design curriculum to ensure the future workforces are employment ready claims Professor Martin Boddy from UWE.

Whereas David Carter, Director of Infrastructure for the West of England Combined Authority states that the private sectors needs to remain patient. The infrastructure projects that provide those modal shifts in movement take time to implement, but they will happen. A 20-year plan allows some clarity around the narrative and this gives the private sector something they can rely on. Trying to get the corridors of the flow of people correct requires a much bigger and broader transport system – which again takes time.  

Summarising today’s discussion which was hosted and facilitated by City Director, Richard Bonner from Arcadis who is also President of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative feels the city is now benefitting from a sense of purpose and we must reach out to all parts of our city region. “Doors lead to doors...”

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