Rural businesses are an important contributor to the health and vibrancy of our local economy. Hertfordshire LEP is working to improve conditions for these businesses by upgrading existing infrastructure, investing in local skills and training, offering business support and funding opportunities, and boosting footfall to rural areas through tourism.
Connectivity is essential for the growth and profitability of rural businesses. Our Connected Counties programme is a partnership between Hertfordshire LEP, Hertfordshire County Council, Buckinghamshire County Council and BT, which brings superfast fibre broadband to hard-to-reach areas across Herts and Bucks. To date, Connected Counties has delivered superfast broadband to over 79,000 premises, giving residents and businesses fast and reliable access to the internet, with an additional 35,000 premises set to be upgraded by the end of 2019.
Providing skills employers need
We are working with local colleges, training providers and the University to implement the Hertfordshire Skills Strategy to 2020 to deliver skills that employers need across key industry sectors. We are continually investing in the improvement of local training provision, from the recent upgrade of the electrical training workshop at Hertford Regional College, to building new campuses at West Herts College and North Herts College to improve and increase the supply of apprenticeships and traineeships. 90 out of 108 local schools are also signed up to our Careers and Enterprise Company programme, which partners schools with local business leaders to help improve careers guidance and provide work experience for young people.
Helping businesses grow
The majority of businesses in rural Hertfordshire are small, with nine employees or less. We are strengthening our local economy by providing access to, and increasing the visibility of, business support programmes within the county. Our Hertfordshire Growth Hub offers free and impartial business advice to SMEs to help them expand, innovate and create new jobs. Over the 2016/17 financial year, the Growth Hub advised 797 SMEs, helped create 400 new jobs and engaged with an additional 13,000 businesses through its website.
We also help secure EU funding for the Hertfordshire Growth Package; an expanding range of business support programmes tailored to start-ups. The Growth Package brings together a previously fragmented offering from a wide range of providers, and includes targeted support for entrepreneurs and manufacturing and creative start-ups, as well as guidance for firms looking to export or reduce their carbon footprint, secure funding for innovation, enhance competitiveness or develop new products and services.
Providing access to funding
We give businesses the chance to secure funding through open calls for projects, with £2.8m from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) ring-fenced for those in rural areas. This funding is used to help non-agricultural micro businesses and SMEs grow, as well as to support tourism activities, fund small-scale renewable energy and broadband investments, and build knowledge and skills in rural areas.
Boosting footfall through tourism
Hertfordshire’s £2.1bn visitor economy supports almost 38,000 jobs, with double the number of people employed within the tourism industry in rural areas compared to urban areas. The LEP and Hertfordshire County Council jointly fund the county’s tourism service, Visit Herts, which works with key stakeholders to increase the number of visitors into the county to boost spending, create jobs, preserve local heritage and encourage future growth.
Visit Herts helps promote local businesses through marketing campaigns such as Herts Big Weekend and the Hertfordshire Tourism Awards, and supports major events like the Game Fair at Hatfield House, which provides a multimillion-pound boost to the local economy through spending on accommodation, food and drink, and local attractions, many of which are based in rural areas.
Earlier this year, Visit Herts hosted a hospitality sector workshop and helped establish a new Hoteliers Forum to tackle issues surrounding the recruitment, retention and development of staff within the hospitality sector. Following successful funding bids from VisitBritain’s Discover England Fund, two new tourism offers were also greenlighted for the county including the Gourmet Garden Trails of England and the East of England Touring Route, both providing valuable growth opportunities for rural Hertfordshire businesses to capitalise on the growing appetite for experiential tourism.
Moving forward, Visit Herts looks to improve Hertfordshire’s business tourism offer, increase inward investment, and advance the skills agenda, particularly within the hospitality industry.