The scale of the current economic crisis calls for collective leadership to help shape local recovery. On 20th August, Hertfordshire business and public sectors leaders shared their experiences and the measures taken in response to COVID-19 at the ‘Rebuilding Hertfordshire’s Future Together’ webinar, hosted by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce. 

With over 120 delegates registered, the webinar presented a first look at Hertfordshire LEP’s Economic Recovery Plan for the county, drawing on our knowledge of the local economy and building on the measures already taken on a local and national level.

It also gave stakeholders and the wider business community an opportunity to hear from Hertfordshire employers on how they have responded to the challenges of the pandemic and adapted to new ways of working; and to hear what actions have been taken by public sector leaders to ensure no community is left behind. 

The webinar was chaired by Mark Bretton, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP and the LEP Network, who spoke about the vital role LEPs are playing in local recovery planning and the action being taken collectively at a national level.

Neil Hayes, CEO of Hertfordshire LEP, presented the Economic Recovery Plan, which aims to accelerate recovery over the next 6-18 months and position Hertfordshire for sustained and good economic growth in the years thereafter. The plan is structured around main three delivery packages focused directly on Hertfordshire’s businesses and its people, including: Enterprise and Innovation; Skills and Creativity; and International Trade and Investment. 

Progress towards the longer-term aspirations set out in the Local Industrial Strategy will be achieved through two additional transformational programmes, which entails equipping Hertfordshire’s places and connecting the county for future ways of living and working.

A panel session hosted by Mary Sykes, External Affairs Director at Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, brought together:

  • Cllr David Williams, Leader of Hertfordshire County Council and Chair of the Hertfordshire Growth Board, who set out the key challenges the county expects to face in the coming 12 months, the role of the Growth Board in coordinating Hertfordshire’s response, and the measures being taken to ensure inclusive growth and recovery.
    David said: “The Hertfordshire Growth Board was established to secure the funding, freedom and flexibilities enjoyed by other devolved areas. Its focus has been securing funding for infrastructure, accelerating housing delivery, and curating our high streets following the shocks to the retail industry. Much work has been done but there is much more to do.”
  • Ben Andersen-Tuffnell, Group Government Relations Director at Tesco, spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on the retail sector and Tesco, which is headquartered in Welwyn Garden City, and the measures taken by the company in response.
  • Ceri Humphrey, Finance Director at VolkerFitzpatrick, and LEP Board Member, discussed the ongoing challenge to modernise and digitise the construction industry to build better, faster and more safely.
    Ceri said: “VolkerFitzpatrick, like many other businesses in the sector, has been undergoing a digital transformation for the last couple of years which means that through COVID-19 we have found that a great deal can be done remotely. However construction projects cannot be delivered over Zoom. The sector’s productivity challenge can be tackled by using technology to help build better and faster, be it Building Information Modelling, offsite construction, robotics or other modern methods of construction. Smaller businesses must be supported to embrace these technologies.”
  • Tommie Eaton, Founder of @BambuuBrush, a Hitchin-based start-up that has kick-started an eco-toothbrush revolution, spoke about the need for economic recovery that has sustainability at its heart, and for better education about climate change to inspire and encourage the public to do more to reduce their own carbon footprint.
  • Briege Leahy, CEO of Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, recounted the experiences faced by the county’s small to medium sized businesses over the past few months, and what more needs to be done to support them.
    Briege said: “The pandemic has created enormous challenges for the county’s SMEs to overcome but it has also shown how resilient Hertfordshire really is. There is still more to be done to support badly affected sectors including hospitality; the self-employed and company directors; and the third sector, what with the rise in depression, domestic violence and other issues as a result of COVID-19. Businesses are built on people and it is important to ensure we take care of ourselves and each other.” 
  • Deirdre Wells OBE, CEO of Go To Places (Visit Herts), set out what more could be done locally to ensure the tourism and hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard-hit, not only survives but becomes more resilient in the future, as well as the importance of rebuilding customer confidence.
    Deirdre said: “The loss of the summer season has been incredibly challenging for the tourism and hospitality sector. Hertfordshire has fantastic assets, culture, and market towns and more should be done to create a year-round offer.  The decline in high streets and retail has historically been an issue but the change in working patterns will be an opportunity to revive our smaller towns. As much as 90% of all inward investors start out as local tourists, asking questions like ‘will my workforce like living and working here’, ‘are there places where I can hold my meetings’, and ‘are there good R&R offerings locally’. It is important our towns have independent shops, cafes and more to attract people to them, in addition to the infrastructure needed to allow for local working.”
  • Mark Bretton spoke about the LEP Network’s work and vision to support young people who stand to be most impacted by COVID-19.
  • Neil Hayes expanded further on the transformational programmes set out within the Economic Recovery Plan in relation to changes to the way people live and work during the pandemic.

Mark Bretton, Chair, Hertfordshire LEP and the LEP Network, said: “The economic shockwave that COVID-19 has triggered in the UK has been unprecedented, yet like in most crises, the pandemic has also shown what we can achieve if we work together. The success stories we have heard of Hertfordshire businesses and individuals innovating, adapting, and together supporting their communities like never before, are testament to this. 

“A critical task lies before us now in creating new jobs and opportunities for local people in the short term, but also defining a trajectory for recovery and growth that realises Hertfordshire’s wider ambitions. Events like the one held today play an important role in facilitating the constructive conversations needed to inform and improve our recovery plan for the county.”

Briege Leahy, CEO, Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Hertfordshire businesses have stepped up to support each other and the county during the pandemic. We all need to harness the opportunities and stay resilient, working constructively and in harmony to bring about our economic recovery and growth for the future.”

Learn more about Hertfordshire LEP’s Economic Recovery Plan for the county at our Annual Conference 2020: The Roadmap To Recovery webinar on 25 September - book your place.

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