William Eichler 20 October 2017

Report highlights growth in Greater Thames Valley region

Nearly 37,000 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were launched in the Greater Thames Valley in one year, a new report into the economic impact of the GTV has revealed.

The figures highlight the levels of growth in the region between 2015 and 2016. There were over 249,800 SMEs were based in the Greater Thames Valley in 2016 - up from 212,990 companies in 2015.

To put this in perspective, Greater Manchester and Birmingham and Solihull - a combined region of comparable size - only attracted 9,220 new SMEs in the same period.

GTV - a region that comprises Thames Valley Berkshire, Enterprise M3, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley, Solent, Swindon & Wiltshire, and Oxfordshire LEP areas - has seen significant levels of investment in recent years.

Its major investment streams include a £4bn programme led by Basingstoke and Dean Borough Council, and £518m from Swindon and Wiltshire LEP to propel local economic growth.

OxLEP also oversees a £2.2bn growth programme for Oxfordshire, including £200m of Government funding, which has supported the creation of 40,000 new jobs since 2012.

However, it is not just a question of funding. LocalGov spoke to Tim Smith, the chief executive of Thames Valley Berkshire to find out more about the key drivers behind the growth.

‘There are a number of ingredients which make the Greater Thames Valley a superb business location,’ he explains.

‘There are the obvious ones we’re very proud of which is the connectivity and the accessibility to London as a world city in the markets and, of course, that connectivity with the rest of the world through London Heathrow.

‘That creates a strong business cluster and an anchor here and that therefore makes the environment that much more attractive for start up businesses.’

There are a number of other factors. Mr Smith characterises the GTV as a ‘dynamic area’ that has good connections with mid-market businesses as well as longer established companies.

The Thames Valley Science Park, which will be opened soon, will also provide a good mechanism for connecting the area’s LEPs with high education — a connection which is perfect for ‘tech companies who want to innovate’.

On the topic of creating fertile areas for investment, Mr Smith called on local authorities to improve their cross boundary cooperation.

‘Collaboration is something that I think everyone would agree could be stronger, particularly when it comes to housebuilding completions,’ he said.

‘I think we would want to work with our local authority partners to do as much as we can to see even better collaboration.’

He added that councils should see housing as a ‘contributor to economic growth and not simply as a single dimension’ as well as being an important aspect of the wider local infrastructure which is crucial to local growth.

Mr Smith has concerns about Brexit. The lack of ‘clarity and certainty’ is an issue he says. But there is another area of concern for the GTV region: the number of foreign-owned companies that might be effected.

‘We have 945 foreign-owned companies just in Berkshire and that’s an area or county with fewer than a million people,’ he explains. ‘That’s a very intense concentration.

‘They will be making decisions about their future and its those investment cycle decisions that we are keen to influence.

‘We want to influence that as LEPs by investing in success, investing in hard infrastructure, in digital infrastructure and investing in those SMEs because that constantly reenergises that environment for business growth.’

Mr Smith said the GTV’s LEPs had a number of asks they wanted the Government to address, but the most important ones were Heathrow expansion and the creation of a western and southern rail link into Heathrow.

‘Heathrow is one of those elements that makes the economy so phenomenal in this part of the world,’ he says.

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