A sense of place – a business owner’s hopes for town deal boards

26 October 2020

Richard Askew is Managing Director of Askew Brook and policy representative at The Federation of Small Businesses for Yorkshire, The North East and Humber. Here, he shares his views on the concept of ‘place’ and the developing town deals.

Before you read on it’s important to understand where I’m coming from. I live in Scarborough and run a software development company from the town. I’m not a Scarborough native but I’m proud to call it my home, I came to university here and instantly ‘got it’. We have two young kids, I suppose I’m technically a millennial, and the industry I work in tends to employ people in their twenties and thirties.

The concept of place has gathered momentum over this pandemic as people spend more time at home and more time actually living in their local area. I’m sure we all have stories of local businesses that we discovered during lockdown or ones that have gone the extra mile and continue to do so.

This was the case before Covid though, we saw funds spring up designed to give communities more of a say about what happened in their local area given the resources to help make it happen. Couple this with the approach of devolution in North Yorkshire and we’re going to have to make big decisions quickly. This is where the town deal boards come in and below are my hopes for boards in my town and further afield.

When looking at digital, look to traditional sectors

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the digital sector and digital skills are the future of the UK as a whole and not just its towns – after all the digital sector accounts for 7.7% of the UK’s economy. This is encouraging but I would urge policy makers to think what that means five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years from now. Although a relatively new industry, the major players have become established and in my opinion the growth in digital isn’t going to be from unforeseen breakthroughs but with the rest of the world catching up. Policy makers should look to traditional sectors when planning for digital and see how they can help speed up that process. The day where every law firm employs a programmer isn’t too far away, that is where the digital growth is, not betting on the next Facebook.

When thinking about flagship projects think about how they fit in ten years time

There is no doubt that areas right across the North need investment but it’s very important that any investment is sustainable and viable in the long-term. Our towns and cities would benefit from flagship projects but they have to be the right fit and they have to be able to support themselves over the next decade. It is imperative they don’t disappear and we have a solid foundation to build on or we’ll be back to square one when we have to do this all over again. Think about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve and see if there is an opportunity to leverage local knowledge and resources to make funds go further.

When looking at businesses, look to the future

Many towns have business parks or industrial units where the majority of businesses operate. The temptation can be to try and move a centre to somewhere more desirable (a high street perhaps) or to replicate a model that has worked elsewhere. We have to create pathways that allow people of any age to take a risk and start a business, that includes allowing new ways of renting and access to mentoring and business support.

Links with local educational establishments are key to this, building a start-up space isn’t enough, there has to be a pipeline to create the entrepreneurs of the future and all sides need to be on board.

Look to the youth

As the high street and habits change we have to offer things that appeal to the younger generation if we want to retain and attract talent to our towns. That means offering a diverse choice of night-time economy, leisure activities and transportation links. For vast numbers of people climate change is a high priority and our towns have to make green transportation possible, cycle lanes and electric charging points are a must.

I have been as guilty as so many people thinking the coastline is enough but times change and people want that and more.

Be bold

The most important aspect to any plan is a clear and bold vision. Think big and don’t be scared to fail, if you fall short of an ambitious idea then it just means we’re closer the next time we get a chance like this to make a difference rather than back at square one. Some towns will play it safe and others won’t, I know which one I’d back.


You may also be interested in this webinar

Major economic, technological, social and environmental trends are changing the nature of our places. The York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Future Towns works identifies how our towns and places will need to evolve and change to ensure that they remain successful and distinctive places in the 21st century.

A free Future Towns webinar takes place at the LEP’s annual conference on Friday 6 November from 1.45pm to 3pm. To register for the conference, and to find out more, visit our webpage here.


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