Our campaign and local engagement priorities are aligned with those of our membership who share our core values of promoting inclusive and sustainable wealth creation, urban regeneration and revitalisation and protection against environmental degradation and decline.
Accordingly, the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative is involved in a variety of projects at a local level, which represent 7 key priority areas.
Swindon’s economic model is, by all accounts, a standout success within our region. Organisations large and small, from all four corners of the world, have chosen to call Swindon home. Even in the face of strong inter-urban competition from towns and cities across the UK and Europe, Swindon retains unrivalled business appeal. The availability of affordable office spaces, direct access to the rail and motorway networks and proximity to London, are just some of the elements that are Swindon’s secrets of success. These, in turn, have entrenched economic advantages and quality of life locally. Among the many economic advantages, local residents enjoy a wage premium that far outstrips any of its rivals in the South West, on par with prosperous South East towns such as Reading and Guildford. Additionally with the electrification of the mainline, and linking with Crossrail by the end of 2018, businesses should be able to get to and from Canary Wharf in 1¼ hours. We want to safeguard this economic success for generations. One example is that it is vital that we continue to press for an excellent Inward Investment service, whilst safeguard the current resident businesses. Through the Initiative’s work we engage with most of the major businesses, facilitating interaction between public and private sector, giving the latter a voice in both local and national decision making.
We are proud of Swindon’s heritage as a railway town as celebrated in 2016 with Swindon 175. We have a 20th century art collection which is described as the best in the country outside of London where considerable energy in going into a new museum and art gallery. Add to this the home of former Premier League football club Swindon Town FC and we see the raw ingredients which should, in theory, make for a strong local cultural identity among Swindonians. Despite this, however, Swindon has lagged behind in terms of external cultural vibrancy and recognition when compared to nearby towns and cities such as Oxford and Bristol, due, for the most part, to a lack of promotion and awareness among the local community. The Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative actively supports a variety of cultural enrichment programmes which celebrate localism, helping to restore pride in the area and foster strong and cohesive local communities and cultural exchanges. In this regard we are working hard with local key cultural organisations to form a Cultural Partnership which will both benefit the town and its residents, growing diverse audiences and hosting national and international artists and collections. Our business lead on helping initiate the Swindon 175 celebrations has proved a great success. It has placed the town in a great position for a legacy to be taken forward with improvement to the brand, image and perception being undertaken under the Place Marketing Board, shortly to be formed.
Energy and the environment
Sustainable wealth creation and growth rely upon sustainable energy usage and supply. The Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative engages with local businesses to help them take a step in the right direction. We align interests in order to promote attitudinal and behaviour change, and have achieved impressive results through our work on Hydrogen and attempting to make Swindon a centre of excellence for this fuel of the future. By encouraging transport operators and individuals to be healthier and greener through a range of incentives and investments, there is little doubting that Swindon’s health, wealth and environmental wellbeing can be enhanced and secured long into the future.
Employment & skills
Employment is the engine of social mobility and business growth, and skills are a vital part of the machinery that keeps Swindon’s economy moving. Business leaders and local decision makers are in agreement that employment and skills are crucial to Swindon’s outlook, and, to this, the town’s capacity to attract, train and retain high skilled workers remains high on the agenda. The Swindon &Wiltshire Initiative team are personally and professionally invested in ensuring that Swindon’s ability to thrive isn’t held back by a lack of further and higher education and work-based training provisions. We believe that close consultation and engagement with businesses is the only sure way to address the knowledge gaps and skills shortages that harm growth and the economy and that their views should form the pillar of local and national effort to tackle them. The successes of our approach are plain to see, given how Swindon has a high local employment rate, a clear plan of action to tackle NEET 16-25 year olds and a network of groups promoting skills. The next 3 year Strategy is finalised and will concentrate on three areas: 1) Skills for growth, 2) Skills for inclusion and 3) Higher Education. The Initiative is heavily involved with Mike Godfrey chairing the main board and Ian Larrard being a key member of the HE sub group.
Ever since Swindon’s designation as an Expanded Town under the Town Development Act 1952, its population has grown . While exponential population growth is a positive indicator of a successful economic plan in action, it poses a number of challenges for planners and home builders, and puts at risk a town’s ability to attract the skilled workers and inward investment that are necessary to growth. Putting it simply, the very economic foundations that Swindon’s success has been built upon are directly correlated with its ongoing ability to adapt to the various planning challenges that are a consequence of growth in the first place. To this end, the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative has been instrumental in working with business leaders and local decision makers to work through practicable solutions that are sensitive issues in the long-term. Through our Property Group we have brought together Councillors, planners and all aspects of the property world to discuss the wider issues as above and hopefully work more collaboratively.
Although Swindon’s transportation linkages are renowned nationally, there is no room for complacency, when it comes to connectivity, if the town’s economy is to continue to grow. Even in the digital age, where most business exchanges and transactions can be completed or facilitated online, face-to-face communication, and by extension business travel, remain central to business growth. The Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative works hard to understand the transportation needs of our members and local residents, and we campaign tirelessly to ensure that capacity and reliability issues remain high on the agenda, to maintain Swindon as a gateway destination. But that isn’t all. Rail and road transportation play a major part of the local economy, and to this end we continually push for infrastructure investments, in addition to improvements in the commuter and leisure traveller experience within the town itself. Our key priority at present is the completion of the electrification of the Great Western mainline on time which will facility improved capacity and journey times. We are also working with the Council to include Swindon in the proposed National Infrastructure Commission’s work improving connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge both by rail and road.
Place marketing and retail
Place marketing as well as being an external activity aimed at improving inward investment opportunities is also an innovative form of town centre management. It attempts to revitalise the in-town environment through a variety of measures aimed chiefly at expanding visitor footfall. As a refinement of the North American concept of centralised retail management, key activities include: the expansion of high-quality retail space and the enhancement of the town’s retail offer. A key success factor in achieving these aims is engagement with local, national and international stakeholders to attract and deliver investment. Swindon’s status as a place for business is well established, but its retail offer is less so. We have a great offering in the Designer Outlet Village but this at times moves footfall away from the town centre itself. The Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative strongly supports the transformation of Swindon and the local area into a national retail and leisure destination that is worthy of reputation for business. We have footfalls to the Borough that most would strive hard to achieve but we must retain these visitors and redirect them to the town centre if we are to grow this vital part of our economy.