Owl spotted this article. It explains why the attractiveness of Barnstable has enabled it to encourage very high tech businesses. Do you remember years ago we were promised that if we concreted over Grade 1 agricultural land for Skypark and Cranbrook we would get this sort of employment here? Also, Is it such a good idea for EDDC to turn its back on the joint National Park initiative with Dorset when lifestyle and proximity to a National Park feature so prominently in attracting high paid jobs?
Peter Evans in the Sunday Times writes:
One of the apprentices at Applegate Marketplace takes a week off each spring to help with the lambing on her family’s farm. Such is life in a cutting-edge technology business if you are based in Barnstaple, north Devon, an hour’s drive from Exeter.
“It’s a real advantage not to spend your life in broken-down trains or traffic jams,” said chief executive Stuart Brocklehurst. He gave up a City career six years ago for a more bucolic life running Applegate, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to match buyers with suppliers in the public and private sectors.
“I come to work with my dog; I go out walking on Dartmoor every weekend,” said Brocklehurst, 46.
While these lifestyle factors are undoubtedly alluring, building a business outside a recognised hub can be tough. Last week, The Sunday Times published the inaugural KPMG Best Places for Business supplement, listing the top 20 cities and towns in Britain for fast-growing companies. Among the locations were international powerhouses such as London and Edinburgh, along with rapidly evolving hotspots such as Leeds and Manchester.
But what of the places that did not make the list? Before his shock resignation as chancellor last week, Sajid Javid repeatedly promised to “level up” the economy by boosting the regions. If his successor, Rishi Sunak, is to pursue a similar agenda, the towns and cities that have been left behind will require the most attention. Places such as Barnstaple — not to mention Gloucester, Plymouth and Portsmouth — struggle with poor infrastructure, lack of investment in their centres and low retention of skilled workers to boost growing companies.
Bringing greater prosperity will require more than a glib political slogan.
A recent report by the CBI found more than half of Britain’s cities ranked among the 25% least productive in Europe. While projects such as the Northern Powerhouse have started to deliver results for the big conurbations in the north of England, there is a growing fear that a tier of towns in other parts of the country will be left behind as the Tories try to satisfy the voters who handed Boris Johnson victory in December’s general election.
“It poses a risk for places in the south that don’t do well,” said Paul Swinney, a director of the think tank Centre for Cities. “There is a question about whether they get overlooked.”
Focusing on certain parts of the country also risks undermining those places that have performed strongly, Swinney added, because cities require constant investment to keep functioning. “The challenge for their economies is not about getting growth going, it’s about dealing with the cost of success.”
One of the biggest challenges for the cities outside the top 20 is attracting workers — both graduates and experienced professionals — with the skills to take companies to the next stage of growth. London, Edinburgh and Manchester can be cripplingly expensive, but firms open offices in these places because they offer access to the best talent.
There are ways to buck the trend, though. Experts say a thriving city centre is a significant factor in attracting companies and workers. Councils play a big part: cities such as Sunderland and Coventry have moved much of their local government workforce into buildings in the centre, improving footfall for retailers and custom for pubs and restaurants.
Companies based outside the economic hubs are finding innovative ways to attract staff. Applegate employs 35 people, including nine apprentices, all of whom are working towards a degree-level qualification in management. The apprentices are offered up to £10,000 towards a house deposit if they can match the funding. This year there were 284 applicants for three places.
Such perks help persuade young workers to stay in the area and support those unable to afford university — and Barnstaple is not such an unlikely place for an AI business as it sounds. Exeter University’s Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence provides access to the latest research and a stream of qualified staff.
“It’s a distributed hub,” Brocklehurst said. “We’re not on top of each other, stealing each other’s staff, having rent go through the roof. We’ve got space to breathe and build our own community.”
Another strategy is to generate large-scale investments without relying on central government. ..
…However, business owners in the south say they have suffered from being lumped in as part of a prosperous bloc dominated by London. In reality, the coastal towns of Devon and Dorset and the former mining communities of Cornwall are among the most deprived in Britain, yet many politicians still talk of a north-south divide as if there were a neat distinction between the two.
The Great South West is an attempt to build a southern answer to the Northern Powerhouse. The initiative claims £45bn of economic growth could be generated for Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset through a focus on sustainability and the “marine economy”. MPs have requested £2m in the budget to start the programme [£45M in total Owl] — and had been hopeful of receiving it before Javid’s resignation.
Whether the Great South West project and other areas absent from Best Places for Business receive funding will be a test of how serious the government is about “levelling up” the whole country.