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Making the case for Dorset: Responding to the Government’s National Industrial Strategy

By Jim Stewart, Chair, Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership

You might have heard of the Government’s National Industrial Strategy – it sets out the UK Government’s priorities for the economy over the coming years and will form the basis for how Government makes decisions on what to do, where to do it – and priorities for investment.

On the back of this, the UK Government has asked Local Enterprise Partnerships, in our case, the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), to lead a local response – which outlines what areas across the UK can do to help deliver this strategy, and in turn, what support they may need to do it.

Both the Government and Dorset LEP have recognised that economic success is based on the need to boost economic productivity and growth by helping businesses create high quality, well-paid jobs and by investing in skills, industries and infrastructure.

Technology advancements can transform the way we live and work, especially in more rural areas such as Dorset.  We recognise that a new wave of economic innovation could see government and businesses working together to shape a stronger, fairer economy.

So, what will this mean for us, here in Dorset?

Like the Government in its strategy, Dorset LEP and our partners acknowledge the imbalance in local communities – some are going from strength to strength while others are failing to prosper and struggling to keep pace with changes in the global economy.  Improving ‘productivity’ can go some of the way to help address these imbalances.  In practice, that means investing and supporting business to develop new ‘ideas’ (including products and services); supporting people in work, education and those seeking work; investing in excellent infrastructure such as transport and mobile/digital connections; a great business environment where red tape and business support works well; and, working with communities to build and grow great places to live and work.

It’s hugely important to us to make sure that, in helping to achieve these improvements, we do that in a way which is ‘distinctly Dorset’.   Our communities are special and unique – and our environment is precious.   In responding to the Government and taking advantage of the opportunity for support and investment, we are committed to work  with our local business community – and all of our stakeholders –  to develop a Dorset ‘Local Industrial Strategy’ which is individually tailored to reflect our strengths and opportunities as well as areas for improvement.  We also need to be realistic.  Whilst we want some ‘quick wins’ for our economy, some things will take more time. So, this needs to be a long-term plan for economic success between now and 2040.

Developing a Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) presents a tremendous opportunity for Dorset to make the case to government for investment and support.  It will also support our case for increased private investment.  This will ultimately lead to more, better-paid jobs – whilst ensuring that we protect and enhance the exceptional Dorset environment and our communities.

Dorset is already making a significant contribution to ‘UK plc’ with an economy worth £17 billion, supported by robust employment levels and strong business survival rates.  But we face challenges, particularly around housing and infrastructure.  Dorset suffers from poor transport links, congestion and constraints on development. Houses are expensive, affordability is a key issue, demand outstrips supply by a long margin yet house building growth is restricted.  Businesses tell us that there are skills shortages, with some employers struggling to recruit or replace skilled workers.  We need to ensure that our rural areas flourish and are not overshadowed by too much focus on urban economic growth.  Some communities are falling further behind in terms of overall prosperity.  And, like many parts of the UK our productivity rate lags behind the national average, with the potential for renewed global competition in an (almost) post-Brexit era.

But with challenge comes opportunity.  We are home to a raft of well-known international companies and a multitude of fast growing local enterprises.  Over 47,000 businesses are based here, with low churn and high survival rates compared with the rest of the UK. We are on the brink of being the first area in a decade to redefine its local authorities, which will see our existing nine authorities replaced with two strong unitary councils.  Our outstanding coastline, countryside and maritime environment make an exceptional work-life offer and are a key driver in supporting a thriving economy both at a rural and urban level.

Dorset has a strong and varied industrial base, including financial services, health services, the rural economy, advanced manufacturing, engineering and tourism to name just a few.  There are clear advantages of commercialising some of our key assets, particularly around science research and innovation.

So, what’s next?

Dorset LEP is leading the development of Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy. We are committed to work in close collaboration with local businesses, organisations and institutions, including the two new councils.  It must be a twenty-year plan for, and owned by, the whole of Dorset.

If this is to succeed,  we hope that the voice of local business, as well as public and private organisations across Dorset will feed into and inform its development.  We need to know what businesses think our market strengths, opportunities and challenges are; what barriers to growth they face; and, views on key assets and links to global trading.

It’s vital that we hear from as many of Dorset’s business stakeholders as possible.  We’re running a business survey here, and are hosting a series of business consultation events this month on:

Please do get involved and sign up here.  Your insights will be invaluable.

We have also published a call for evidence; it is open to submissions from all local economic development stakeholders in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Evidence can include data sets, research papers, surveys or strategies that show the importance, innovation and future growth of sectors that are likely to bring new technological, skills breakthroughs or become a focus of future growth for the county. Find out more here.

Results from the business survey and consultation events will be presented at our annual business conference on 24 May with Dorset’s first draft Industrial Strategy being unveiled in September 2019.

We are looking forward to working collaboratively with Dorset’s business community to develop a compelling, relevant, impressive and cohesive LIS for our region.  Do get involved.

This is the first of a series of monthly blogs about the LIS from Dorset LEP.

Paul Appleby
Author: Paul Appleby