Post-COVID-19 – the big economic wins will be in the small numbers.

05 May 2020

In this month’s thinkpiece for the Yorkshire Post, David. A. Kerfoot MBE DL discusses the future of the Northern Powerhouse in unprecedented circumstances.

In this unprecedented time of economic challenge, how does the NP11 (Northern Powerhouse 11 Local Enterprise Partnership Chairs) retain its relevance? For me, the value of any lobbying body is to be found in the impact they have in the every-day lives of people and businesses on the ground. Without tangible impacts, they serve no purpose.

The primary function of NP11 is to lobby government. It can be an effective tool to do this, with regular communications to the Business Secretary, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and other Government Ministers. The four LEP Chairs from Yorkshire and Tees-Valley have been working hard to lobby government and the banks to address the gap in support for some small and micro businesses. Intelligence gathered by our LEP colleagues and their partnership networks brings huge strength and specificity to this work. The release of the Bounce Back loans is a good response, yet there is so much more that needs to be done in this arena.

Between the Northern LEP Chairs, collaboration is gaining momentum. With a move away from parochialism, we can increase our effectiveness against cross cutting themes. We are stronger as 11 than as one.

However, the reality is that the big city powerhouses have an increased capacity to drive NP11 agendas. Yet nuance and specificity are vital when approaching global themes against rural and urban backdrops. In order to remain relevant and purposeful, we must be prepared to lobby around the smaller numbers and not just seven-figure urban centred projects. We must do this even when the potential impact has a smaller reach, because it could be life changing for those we do reach. For North Yorkshire that is particularly important.

The City of York, a magnet for global visitors, and a city wide celebration of the best in small and micro B2C businesses, faces severe economic challenges as a result of the pandemic and resultant lockdown measures. All across our region, tourism and B2C sector businesses are in grave financial danger. Hotels & Bed and Breakfasts, for example, continue to fall through the cracks in support and are currently left with nothing. It’s a deeply concerning prospect for individuals and places across the region.

We need to ensure that where our abundance in rural landscapes and historical beauty have been our strengths, we can re-shape the benefits of these assets, to provide a far greater resilience in the future.

The fulcrum upon which our regional recovery will turn is the City of York. There are huge opportunities in innovation and bio-economy, with world leading assets. As a region we have a role to play of national significance when it comes to carbon capture and storage. These routes to recovery directly relate to the magnitude of our rural hinterland. For our region, our rural base will become our success story.

Locality will also be at the route of our recovery. Global supply chains will need to be superseded by local ones. Even in tourism, our route to market post COVID, is local. Local will become a very important facet of our economy.

Shopping local will be essential in order to sustain our economy against future economic shocks. Specifically, Covid-19 will fundamentally change our food supply chains, generating a whole new economic base that revolves around localised consumer habits. We will need to find ways to connect this inevitability to the survival and revival of our local towns and high streets.

Resilient, local supply chains depend and benefit from multiple, smaller businesses. The NP11, could play a specific role that can greatly benefit micro businesses in this arena. For example, much of the policy around food production is designed for large businesses. Complexities in policy can make it difficult for some smaller food suppliers to comply with regulations. Such work may not have big numbers attached, nor a headline grabbing win, but the impact is far reaching and builds economic sustainability in the longer term. We will need to continue to campaign to change Governments attitude towards buying in the locality, particularly the Ministry of Defence, as we are dotted with key bases across our region.

In building of economic resilience across the north, NP11 can lend its big voice to the small man, ensuring that lobbying agendas have the breadth and depth to reach into rural areas and the complex issues that many micro businesses face – especially in this time.

I will personally continue to give voice to our rural businesses and those in the City of York. The post COVID world will be incredibly different for our communities, businesses and workforce. We need to remember the smallest parts that make up the whole as we re-build the future of the Northern Powerhouse.

David. A. Kerfoot MBE DL, Chair of the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership

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