Hertfordshire LEP has called for continued collective leadership at its Roadmap to Recovery Annual Conference and AGM 2020 [25th September 2020].

More than 250 people from across local and central government, business, the voluntary, community and charity sectors attended the conference to hear how Hertfordshire LEP and partners plan to accelerate recovery and re-ignite the economy by putting people and business at the heart of value creation. 

 

In his capacity as Chair of the LEP Network and Hertfordshire LEP, Mark Bretton set out the role of LEPs in shaping business-led economic recovery across Hertfordshire, the wider Southern region and the UK as a whole, by supporting the Government's ‘levelling up’ agenda and ambition to ‘build back better’. 

He said: “LEPs are entrusted to deliver the PM’s Getting Building Fund with £900m allocated across England and a good slice for Hertfordshire. This has also shown we have significant pent up demand for more projects when government is ready. We have secured a major increase in Growth Hub funding (from £10m to £72m) directed to support SMEs who are key to recovery."

Hertfordshire is clearly punching well above its weight, with both Mark and Cllr David Williams, as Chair of the County Councils Network, sitting on a number of Secretary of State and Ministerial Taskforces and Working Groups focused on the COVID-19 response. 

Asked about how LEPs are driving a ‘ground-up recovery’, Mark said: “The L in LEPs stands for Local. We know what works best on the ground. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work. We need a national framework but we also need the freedom to flex this for our local areas. Ground up means getting local people involved and running sessions like these. Together, we are determined to lead our way out of this crisis.”

In a gripping keynote interview, Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director, CBI, gave a real-time response to the latest announcements from the Treasury which he said the CBI hugely welcomed and would make a material difference to businesses. Matthew also praised the incredible innovation that had been so evident during the crisis, saying the drive to build back better was already coming through. The task ahead is huge, with up to 10 million people requiring re-training, but he was in no doubt that the long-term economic fundamentals still remain true.

With Brexit looming in just 97 days, Mathew was asked what more could be done to support business resilience: “This has been hugely tested. COVID-19 has exhausted cash flows and reserves and for many businesses their preparedness for Brexit has even gone backwards. The clock is ticking. The old adage holds true: prepare for the worst and plan for the best. The CBI is doing everything it can to work with Government to secure a deal.”

Asked what was the one thing that Government could do that CBI members would appreciate and benefit from more than anything else, he said: “I am a bit of a believer in the rule of three. The ideal, down to the most do-able scenario. A vaccine would be a game-changer. No. 2 on my list would be a good Brexit deal. That would take one of the headaches off the table. The third one, less ambitious and more realistic, is that businesses want clarity and certainty. So a vaccine, good Brexit deal and clarity and certainty. If we can have those three we will be in good shape going into 2021."

In the keynote presentation on Hertfordshire’s Economic Recovery Plan, Hertfordshire LEP Chief Executive Neil Hayes, set out the scale of the crisis facing Hertfordshire with: 

  • a loss of 60,000 jobs in 2020 (including self-employment) and possibly far higher;
  • a loss of Gross Value Added (GVA), a key productivity metric, from £40.7bn in 2018 down to an expected £35bn. This GVA loss is equivalent to the loss of Hertfordshire’s entire manufacturing or construction sector;
  • 173,400 employments furloughed – a take-up rate of 30%, with 34% in Broxbourne and 26% in St Albans.

But there was note for optimism too. Neil outlined the five projects selected to receive a share of Hertfordshire’s £16.8m Getting Building Fund allocation to help kickstart local growth, focused on Hertfordshire’s key growth sectors including life sciences, construction, and film & TV. These ‘shovel-ready’ projects will create over 1,500 jobs and unlock over 12,100 sq. m. of commercial space within the county. 

Hertfordshire’s economic diversity continued to be one of its key strengths, he said, and our economic ‘fundamentals’ (skills, location, connectivity, sectors) remain strong. The focus now ‘must be to concentrate on future opportunities and long term growth to maximize private sector investment’. 

LEP Board Member Ceri Humphrey, Finance Director VolkerFitzpatrick, outlined the strength of the construction sector in Hertfordshire: “If the Government is going to build, build, build then the construction industry is primed to help the country recover. The ‘better’ bit is important as we have globally significant assets here such as the Building Research Establishment (BRE) located in Hertfordshire, with the BREEAM trademark setting the standards for sustainability.”

Tina Barnard, CEO, Watford Community Housing, echoed fellow LEP Board Member Ceri Humphrey on the need to build better and more affordable homes, citing the plight of rough sleepers, and also the opportunity to embrace offsite manufacturing as a means to accelerating housing delivery. The role of housing, was, said Cllr David Williams, both as Leader of Hertfordshire County Council and Chair of Hertfordshire Growth Board, absolutely vital for both Hertfordshire’s long-term economic prospects and the health and well-being of its residents.

Professor Julie Newlan MBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Hertfordshire, talked about how the higher education sector had adapted to meet future business needs: “We need high level skills to drive innovation and we have to work hand-in-glove with our FE colleges to provide that progression. Our way of responding is to match and provide a ladder of opportunity. We have had to accelerate this in response to this crisis and are working much more collaboratively now and in the future to continue to adapt.”

Responding to the issues around inclusion and digital isolation, Cllr Linda Haysey, Leader, East Herts District Council, said at a district level they had adapted their model by moving their council meetings online and even live-streaming them on YouTube and conducting extensive digital planning consultations rather than just in parish halls. On a community level, she outlined the huge work being done by public health to connect with harder-to-reach communities, by translating vital public health messaging into a number of languages to target often high-risk groups. The community reassurance cell would, she stressed, ‘be with us for a very long time to come’.

With the disadvantaged disproportionately affected by the ongoing crisis, Helen Gray, Foundation Director, Hertfordshire Community Foundation, outlined the crucial work of voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises and just how badly they had been affected: “We could see a really significant contraction in the VCSE sector. The charity sector addresses such a broad range of social needs including bereavement, debt, poverty, domestic violence and addiction issues. People turn to local charities and groups for support in times of need, so sufficient funding has to be channelled in an impactful way. We are very concerned that charities are facing such a significant shortfall in income over the coming year that support may no longer be available.”

The conference was followed by the Annual General Meeting where Mark Bretton gave his key highlights over the past year and Neil Hayes set out the LEP’s governance and finances. In a refreshing twist, thanks to the digital webinar format, LEP Board Members then spoke about their key LEP highlights from the past year and what they would like to be reporting back on in person in 2021. 

View our Annual Report 2020 View our Economic Recovery Plan