It’s business as usual, very successful business
As the ancient Chinese curse is supposed to have said, we live in interesting times, writes Sir Nigel Knowles, Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership of Sheffield City Region.
We have debate and uncertainty around the strength of our national government and what that means for future trading arrangements with the European Union, the future of its Industrial Strategy, or government investment in the North. So definitely interesting times!
However, uncertainty is not always a bad thing. It makes people look for other opportunities, and I am deeply impressed by the way in which businesses across the region have responded. Our own SCR Quarterly Economic Survey tells us that business sales continue to grow and that over the next three months the outlook is positive for both domestic and international trade. This is a great example of businesses getting on with it.
Just like them, and to quote another maxim, we’re keeping calm and carrying on. We’ve just seen a massive 73% increase in foreign investment into the region in the year to the end of March, the result of painstaking hard work by the specialists in the local authorities, the central SCR team, and our partners working closely together. That means jobs – 2308 new jobs and more than another 200 safeguarded.
And it means money. Government figures, produced annually, show that there were 46 investments by foreign businesses into the region. Expansions comprise 47% of the investments; mergers and acquisitions make up another 18%; and new investments 36%.
Recent high-profile examples include supercar McLaren and aero giant Boeing investing in research and production at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, and the Singapore company Metro Holdings investing in the Sheffield Digital Campus, (pictured).
It’s not just foreign investors with whom we work. Our Growth Hub which supports ‘home-grown’ ventures, had by the end of April marked its first year in operation, worked intensively with almost 1500 businesses and provided over 300 grants.
Now for my third saying – it’s business as usual. Our business is to create jobs and boost economic growth and to do this we strategically allot a range of funding.
In deals which we negotiated with the Government, known as the Local Growth Fund, and taken together with other funding streams, we gained a total of around half a billion in new funds.
So what are we spending that on?
- We have the SCR Infrastructure Fund to unlock 70,000 jobs and 13,000 new homes. This helps to speed up key projects which would not have gone ahead as quickly. They include the link road from the M18 to Doncaster Sheffield Airport; the Peak Resort leisure centre and the Waterside residential development at Chesterfield; and a series of road improvements in Worksop and Barnsley to open up commercial investment.
- We also have the Business Investment Fund to help unlock business and jobs growth – a £26million pot to invest across in businesses that demonstrate growth or the potential to grow. This is used only when businesses can demonstrate that they have exhausted traditional funding markets.
- Our Enterprise Zone Accelerator Fund which helps unlock commercial building on our Enterprise Zone sites across the region. An example is land at the Doncaster Sheffield Airport Enterprise Zone has just been sold for building high-quality business units.
- Support for skills – our ‘Skills Bank’ allows employers to create a training package which is right for their business, and to receive funding for the majority of the cost.
- We also have an ambitious funding portfolio which accelerates housing, commercial, retail and leisure schemes, while our JESSICA fund provides development debt funding for commercial property and regeneration projects in the Region at commercial rates.
But we don’t give out money hand over fist. Every project is assessed in line with our economic priorities, and rigorously scrutinised in accordance with our city region Assurance Framework. Lastly, all decisions are then formally approved by the Combined Authority.
All in all, a huge programme of work is underway and continues unabated. Its success is undeniable. We set ourselves the ambitious target of seeing 70,000 jobs created in the ten years from 2015: we’ve already seen 37,000 created in just two years. GVA has grown. The concepts of advanced manufacturing and innovation are now firmly established around the world as the key strengths of the Sheffield City Region.
Business as usual? It’s very much successful business as usual!