GFirst LEP

Vital report will help determine prognosis for Gloucestershire’s economy

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 01 June 2020 15:12

In just a few days time those charged with charting Gloucestershire’s economic recovery will get their hands-on data showing just how deep the wounds of the pandemic might be.

That there is no doubt about the daunting task facing Gloucestershire as it sets forth on its post lockdown life is not news, and neither is it allowed to suffocate the conversations with GFirst LEP. 

The local enterprise partnership has always portrayed itself as a doer and has proved premier league to date, but overnight it has found itself not so much on the pitch as in the ring.

David Owen, courtesy of Cheltenham creative communications agency Mighty.

Pictured: David Owen, courtesy of Cheltenham creative communications agency Mighty.

David Owen, chief executive officer of the local enterprise partnership, said: “In April the unemployment number in Gloucestershire doubled. When you have unemployment doubling when you have furlough in place protecting jobs it focuses your mind.” 

The amount of ground the organisation and its battalion of business brains have covered over the last few weeks will be familiar to anyone running their own business. 

Indeed, many of those on its sector groups and newly created ‘economic task force’ are also running their own businesses. 

Usually associated with accolades for its administrative wins - business plans which have brought in more than £100 Million to the economy – this crisis was asking for something new, torpeodoing its fair-weather Strategic Economic Plan predicting 4.8 per cent GVA per annum through to 2022. 

Words like ‘pivot’ are too weak to describe the transformations many have faced. GFirst LEP quickly found the benefit of serving generals within its ranks, businessacumenand a proven team. 

First came the messages fired out of the organisation. There were no silver bullets, but the next best thing in a crisis - clarity. Clear messages about what Rishi Sunak was offering, signposts direct to the latest news. Nothing is so reassuring in a crisis, and nothing worse than noise for its own sake. 

Dev Chakraborty and Jessica Gray have been delivering the dispatches distilled clear from the noise and confusion.

Move one for GFirst LEP, was hanging onto its outgoing chair. Ironically, the adverts to find a replacement for her had used the strapline ‘your biggest challenge hasn’t begun’.

The Government was quickly convinced Diane Savory, Gfirst LEP longstanding chairwoman who was coming to the end of her second and final term of office, was an asset that should absoolutely not be removed on a technicality at such a crucial time.  

And with that GFirst LEP began fashioning its four-pronged weapon to fight the dragon, aware it would need to go the full 12 rounds. 

“That decision (about Ms Savory) was good news. Frankly, it would also have been almost impossible to find someone new of that calibre,” said Mr Owen, who spoke to towards the end of May. 

“You want a really good business person, with great knowledge and expertise. Anyone who is good at business is bound to be very, very busyat the moment.” 

Ms Savory’s credentials are not just the spurs she won years previously fashioning Cult Clothing and taking it to the Stock Exchange as Superdry with Julian Dunkerton. 

The Gfirst LEP business plans – you will struggle to find more success documents coming out of an LEP – delivered the aforementioned £100 million-plus. 

She has just been chosen to join the board of the National Economic Recovery Task Force, chaired by Minister Simon Clarke and including Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London), Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester) and Andy Street (Mayor of the West Midlands). 

“Phase one of the plan was about emergency support and the economic implications. How do we get guidance to business? We began doing that since the early part of March now. It is about signposting support to the Growth Hubs, getting as much clear information out as we can,” said Mr Owen, referring to the county-wide network of business support hubs. 

“Secondly, it was to try to understand what the economic shock will be for Gloucestershire. What has the impact been. That is tricky.

“We have the furlough scheme the government took the brave move to step in and safeguard jobs and businesses, but we don’t know what the impact will be when that is removed. 

“We have commissioned a report and that will be with us soon to give us some figures by the beginning of June on what the impact might be to the Gloucestershire economy, and how it might affect certain sectors. 

“Then we will put together the recovery plan, see how active we need to be and where, what we need to try and influence Government about in order to get the economy back on track.” 

A board meeting is planned for June 9 to discuss. 

And the fourth and final tenet if its approach to date … how to make the county more economically resilient? 

“We know some sectors will have to change. They will have to change quite a lot if they are to survive. We know some businesses will not. 

“What we want to know as soon as possible is ‘what do we need to do to make our economy operate in the new normal?’. 

“And we need to know how we can make our economy more resilient so that resilience is there if we ever find ourselves in this position again.” 

The positivity from all concerned, he said, had been inspiring. 

“I am really impressed with the way business have adapted and changed their models and really impressed by how willing people have been to put in so much time to try to make things better. 

“Someone on our board said the other day that the technological advances of the last few weeks were coming anyway, but they would have possibly taken two years. 

“We need to hang onto that ‘can do’ mindset. It is amazing when you really have to change what can be done. 

“We want to take some of what we have seen, about how we have been able to use technology to cut pollution, how we have spent more time with our families, and work some of that into our future plans.” 

The local enterprise partnership has also been meeting with the county’s six MPs, a two-way conversation, but one that has also seen the LEP gently reminding them it was important promises made to the county on projects including junction 9 and 10 of the M5 and the A417 were delivered on.  

And while GFirst LEP’s remit is Gloucestershire, it has been working to position itself as a voice within the Western Gateway – a concept which seeks to create a new regional mindset which sees the county, Worcestershire, the Malverns, South Wales and Bristol fight together to be heard on the national stage. 

“There are a massive number of positives going on, which is fantastic,” said Mr Owen. “But we cannot underestimate the economic challenges ahead." 

This story is part of a series of articles running at launches covering some of the key sectors in Gloucestershire as the county reveals its plan to exit lockdown.

Part Two: How do you restart a sector worth £1.4blln to the Gloucestershire economy?