Wednesday, 17 December 2008
More support for local business
This year I sat for the first time on the 'Farnborough Business and Community' panel. The Chairman is a very nice man, and included lots of nice people, the lady in North Camp that runs the tobacconist, the chap that runs the sports centre, our local beat officer, a nice chap from Planning and another nice chap from Environmental Health.
However, very nice and polite as they all were, I distinctly left my first couple of meetings wondering what Rushmoor actually does to support front line business in Farnborough and indeed Aldershot. You could equally argue - this is not a town hall job, the town hall aspect is ensure a clean safe environment that will attract businesses and nice homes, shops, leisure and living conditions that will attract skilled people.
We would have to be a particularly bad authority to mess up some of the prizes we have been given. We live in a great area, relatively low density housing, although I shudder at what planning have allowed regards slums in waiting that we call modern flats recently. To put blame where it belongs - we have to thank Mr Prescott for most of that, although we have been too slow in my opinion to address parking ratio's for flats.
We have an excellent blue chip company base that is the envy of many a local authority, with Nokia, CSC, QinetiQ and Tag Aviation to name just a few who reside in the Borough. We must not forget (although heavily depleated now) the Army, who are ressession proof. Sadly we are a garrison village more than a garrison town these days.
The other key gem we have is the Farnborough College, who can offer skill training etc to businesses and employees.
We have been very good at the 'strategic' vision, you know the generic stuff that is duplicated on lots of town hall copiers to 'tick boxes'. I think we have very nice people that want to do the right things, and in general we are getting this right, but I think we could do better, and see two areas worth concentrating on.
1. We need to focus on local, especially when the wolves are gathering at the doors. Let us concentrate on what we are good at - delivering local solutions at a local level tailored to local needs. Supporting our local economy in deed not just in word.
2. We need to work with all agencies as a local authority, and not have any favorites. This also spreads risk and keeps us above any accusation of unfair support for a particular organisation. There are a number of agencies now that are offering free support to companies, now if I, as a local business owner and a councillor, am having difficulty finding exactly what is on offer - somewhere, somehow, something is not working as it should.
Can a local authority really have a great impact on local businesses? No a failing business will fail regardless, and assistance sometimes only prolongs the inevitable closure. But local authorities are able to do a number of positive things to help rather than hinder the development of business. These could include, but are not limited to:
1. Hosting events run by specialist organisations, that offer free services to businesses.
2. Have free pre planning briefs for businesses wishing to expand.
3. Promote skilling up via local educational establishments.
4. Get a reputation for working with companies, not to bend any rules, but have an open and friendly dialogue which looks for solutions rather than obstacles to business challenges.
5. Ensuring we keep all costs to companies and individuals to an absolute minimum.
.. and more
Some of these we are doing, some we are not.
The one frustration with local government is the 'oil tanker' culture. Bad habits can take years to stop, and years for a change in direction. This is the fault of the majority of members and senior officers. Change under the present system takes time, some suggest this is one arguement in favour of directly elected Mayors with cheif executive powers.
Summary: Rushmoor is a good place for business - but some aspects of what the local authority are doing could be improved, run more efficiently and more focused.