Hertfordshire LEP’s new Government sponsor Ian Porée was taken on a whistle-stop tour of Stevenage on Friday 29th June to see at first hand some of the opportunities and challenges facing the town.

In just one morning, Mr Porée 'walked on the surface' of Mars, heard how cutting-edge cell and gene therapies are being developed and how young people are being inspired to take up future careers in science, technology and engineering.

The Government has introduced a ‘Senior Sponsor’ initiative with all LEPs by matching them with director level civil servants. Hertfordshire LEP’s Senior Sponsor is Ian Porée who works for the Ministry of Justice and lives in Hertfordshire.

The purpose of this new role is to support and challenge LEPs to be as effective and ambitious as possible and to help gather evidence on the particular challenges and opportunities facing each economic area.

Mark Bretton, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP, said: “We welcome this new Government initiative and believe that Mr Porée will play a vital part in our future relations with Whitehall as we prepare to develop a Local Industrial Strategy with Government.

“Here in Stevenage there is tremendous potential and a collective will among our public sector leaders, businesses and training providers to succeed, but there are challenges we must face together too. I welcome the opportunity to work closely with Mr Porée over the coming months to find long-term solutions, both in Stevenage and across the county.”

As part of this important new role, Mr Porée was taken on an action-packed tour to see how businesses, public sector partners and training providers are working together to regenerate Stevenage and drive up productivity.

Mr Porée’s first stop was with Stevenage Borough Council’s CEO Scott Crudgington where he was shown around the town centre. 

[From left: Hertfordshire LEP Government Sponsor Ian Porée with Stevenage Borough Council leader Scott Crudgington, Hertfordshire LEP Deputy Chair Adrian Hawkins and Chair Mark Bretton]

Next stop was Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst campus, which is now in its sixth successful year of operation. Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership provided a £3m grant from the Single Local Growth Fund, known as Growth Deal, to help provide site infrastructure in support of the construction of additional business incubation space.

[Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst CEO Sally-Ann Forsyth with Mr Porée and Herts LEP Deputy Chair Adrian Hawkins]  

The Campus was also chosen as the preferred site for the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult’s new state-of-the-art cell and gene therapy manufacturing centre which opened earlier this year. Backed by over £60m in government investment, the manufacturing centre will help to bring cell and gene therapies to market by bridging the gap between scientific research and commercialisation of the medicines of the future.

Mr Porée was then shown around Airbus Foundation Discovery Space. The centre is an interactive science and engineering education centre run by North Hertfordshire College and jointly funded by the Airbus Foundation and Hertfordshire LEP. It was opened in January 2017 by European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake and bases its exhibits, classroom and workshop spaces around the ExoMars Rover and its state-of-the-art testing yard to inspire young people to pursue future careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The final stop on Mr Porée’s tour was North Hertfordshire College’s Engineering and Construction Campus. Hertfordshire LEP invested £400k Government funding to upgrade the campus with industry-standard engineering equipment to create a modern sector workplace environment and help ensure that students are trained to meet the needs of local employers. They were shown a range of training provision on offer from brick-laying and welding to car mechanics.

Hart Learning Group CEO and North Hertfordshire College Principal Kit Davies said they encouraged their students to think big, with the opportunity for students on motor vehicle courses to go on to successful careers with main car dealers, garages, roadside assistance companies and even Formula 1. 

Prior to the tour, Mr Porée attended a business breakfast meeting hosted by networking group biz4Biz at Needham House Hotel on how to plan for the scale and impact of future housing growth in Hertfordshire. The meeting was chaired by Hertfordshire LEP Deputy Chair and biz4Biz co-founder Adrian Hawkins.

Panellists leading the open discussion included Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, Hertfordshire County Council leader Cllr David Williams and Neil Hayes, Executive Director, Hertfordshire LEP.

Adrian Hawkins, Deputy Chair, Hertfordshire LEP, opening the discussion said: "Here in Hertfordshire we have a rich tapestry of planning achievements. Now the issue facing the county is that the combined total of homes to be built is around 100,000. These people here on the panel will be making the decisions on infrastructure and planning for this scale of growth."

Neil Hayes asked the packed event: "What sort of Hertfordshire do we want for the future? We have tried low density; do we want to look to growing our places upwards not outwards to reduce further urban spread? There is a debate to be had and we are starting this here."    

Both Cllr David Williams and Bim Afolami MP agreed that Hertfordshire is entering a very exciting and significant period of growth, with Cllr Williams stressing the scale of the challenge. He said: "Housing is at the forefront of our thoughts, but employment land is also critical for future sustainability. The challenge is to get the right mix of housing in the right places with adequate employment."