Good Growth in distinctive places challenges us to adapt and win a balanced and authentic future
Attending the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership Annual Conference last month, I came away with distinctly new age desires for balance and authenticity.
David Kerfoot, as Chair of the local enterprise partnership, opened the event with a challenge to government policy and thinking, remonstrating that, ‘rural always comes second.’
What followed was a rallying cry, from both David and keynote speaker, Bill Grimsey (The Vanishing High Street) for strong, authentic and local leadership to addresses a rebalancing of our urban, rural and coastal economies. The key to this? Long term planning for North Yorkshire’s large number of rural towns, with the city of York as a fulcrum, driving growth for the region and elevating us all from ‘the Championship to the Premier league’.
With an inspiring vision for, ‘good growth in distinctive places’, the conference called forth policy to address social inclusion, climate change and diversity, whilst under-pinning economic growth and a Local Industrial Strategy to transform productivity for businesses. Myself and 250 other attendees, local partners, business leaders and local authority representatives, found ourselves nodding in agreement and pride as the diversity and strength of our SME led regional economy was explored. Indeed, as Mr Kerfoot coined the phrase, there is ‘nowt like us’.
Much of our work at the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) is to support small businesses to meet today’s challenges, whilst empowering them to prepare for and embrace change that is coming down the line. Never before has there been such an imperative for businesses to lengthen their planning cycles, with political, social, technological and environmental changes impacting heavily on our future, whether we like it or not. Whilst Local Industrial Strategies and devolution may seem to exist in a world far from day to day operations, such as struggles with rising costs, late payers and staff shortages, it is these policy changes and decisions that determine whether or not we have the right contexts in which businesses can succeed. As Bill Grimsey said, meeting the challenge of change at a local level is implicitly about leadership. Local Authorities need to connect and engage far more with businesses, large and small, and take action to support local places to thrive. Their right to exist, he asserted, comes through relevance. This is a strong message for businesses to engage with too. Change is coming, and businesses need to adapt to win.
The reality for SMEs, is that growth in the current environment is hard. What the speakers at the conference compellingly presented is that growth at any cost is no form of ambition for the modern world. Together, the diverse line up of speakers addressed the need for growth that is good, by which they mean growth that is inclusive, responsible and sustainable.
At the FSB, we have been campaigning on diversity and environmental issues for some time. Speaking at the conference, two business owners challenged their peers to adapt working environments so that women can reach their full potential, bring their whole selves to work and contribute to the economy in the most productive way. Anj Handa, from Inspiring Women Changemakers, brought this subject to life, sharing examples of ‘bloody brilliant women’, from STEM professions, unable to work in their chosen fields where businesses have been slow to adapt to their dual role as family carers. Phill White, a ‘Circular Entrepreneur’, addressed how SMEs can play a vital role in addressing climate change, and locally, help York to meet its target to be carbon neutral by 2030. By adapting business models and processes to seek value in everything that they come into contact with, businesses can design out waste, whilst making money.
It is approaches like this that are the future. It seemed to me that the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership has their finger on the pulse. But they, and we the business community, cannot achieve balance, adapt and win, in isolation from each other. In order to build the right contexts, and truly enable businesses to lead and inspire good growth, local enterprise partnerships need to engage in two way conversations with businesses across the region. This local enterprise partnership want to enliven and make relevant, a new Business Engagement Forum. Announced at the conference, they’re undertaking an open recruitment, seeking new faces, new voices and authentic leadership. People who can challenge and rise to the challenge, through common sense and independent local action. I heartily encourage you to get involved and take a role in defining the future for your business, your people, your places, your planet.
This article was written by Carolyn Frank – Development Manager for North Yorkshire at Federation of Small Businesses for the Yorkshire Post.