On the 22nd January Shrewsbury Business Chamber welcomed Mandy Thorn MBE to talk about Marches Local Enterprise Partnership and the work that it undertakes to support economic development across Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Herefordshire. The three local authorities are quite distinct, reflecting their differing political make up and also reflecting on their unique business base. The Marches is known as a good place for business start ups and across the LEP area the success of new business start ups is well above the national average.
Telford and Wrekin is the urban powerhouse of the Marches enjoying considerable success with a number of large inward investment opportunities having been realised over the past couple of years. The availability of “oven ready” commercial land for development has enabled significant investments to be made in Telford over the past few years. Hereford’s food and drink sector is thriving and tourism has an important role within the county. The LEP supported enterprise zone in Hereford has seen significant inward investment from the defence and cyber security sectors. Shropshire’s strengths include its advance manufacturing base, diverse small business sectors including creative and digital and vibrant visitor economy.
Mrs Thorn, who is Chair of Marches LEP explained that Local Enterprise Partnerships are private public partnership created by the government and bring together the three local authorities which operate in the region and representatives from Higher and Further education establishments, the private and community sectors working together to enable economic development and change. The Marches LEP has arranged significant funding for predominantly infrastructure based projects in Shropshire, including: Connecting Shropshire – investment in fibreoptic broadband; new premises construction/refurbishment, and expansion at Shrewsbury College to name a few. This money has been made available from either the European Social Fund monies or through what is called Growth Deal Funding directly from Government.
There are 38 LEPs across England, who all have competed for funding for their specific projects. Mandy spoke about how regulations surrounding LEPs have changed since its inception nearly 10 years ago, to become more formal and accountable, including all LEPs now being incorporated and legal entities. LEP Boards must reflect their communities so each local authority elected leader has an automatic place on the Board, plus in the Marches the three business board chairs. There are representatives from HE and FE and business representatives who are recruited via open advert and who service for a maximum of 6 years. The LEP Board directors are all volunteers receiving no payment for their services. All LEP boards need to be committed to having at least 50% female directors by 2023 and one third by April this year. The Marches LEP is on track for both targets.
Mandy as a passionate local advocate for The Marches, and her home county of Shropshire, addressed the challenges our county faces: including encouraging development and increased skills; enticing people to return to the area after University; and making the local housing market accessible and affordable to working people across all skills levels today. With the average house price in some parts of the County now 11 times the average salary, there are clear barriers that make attracting skilled workers to the area potentially difficult. She concluded by saying ‘’There is still plenty to be done including providing better infrastructure, better telecoms – especially mobile phone connectivity and better publicity for the opportunities that the Marches offer’’.
The Business Chamber’s next meeting is at University Centre Shrewsbury on the 19th February.