The conference set out the LEP's achievements to date, its revised Strategic Economic Plan for the county and how it is delivering the Government's Industrial Strategy.
The inaugural event marked seven years since the LEP was established. In that time it has secured over £320m Government and EU funding to support a raft of projects to improve transport networks, regenerate towns and invest in skills development and business support.
Key achievements include:
- Securing a new Enterprise Zone for the county;
- £31m for the regeneration of Stevenage town centre with further significant funded projects in Hatfield, Hemel, Watford and South Oxhey;
- £87.85m for the Metropolitan Line Extension which will kick-start developments at Watford Junction, Watford Business Park and Watford Health Campus;
- Investing in a package of skills development and business support measures including £1.04m for the Airbus STEM Centre in Stevenage.
Neil Hayes, Hertfordshire LEP Executive Director, said despite such a strong track record there were still challenges to overcome: "Hertfordshire is performing well in relation to other areas with a high employment rate (80%); and a higher than national average GVA [Gross Value Added] per head.
"But we are not as productive as we ought to be and we struggle to meet the ever increasing demand for skills in a very tight labour market."
The LEP's refreshed Strategic Economic Plan sets out how it will try to address this and other issues facing the country. These include:
- Improving east-west connectivity;
- Widening regeneration plans to focus on smaller towns/places;
- Helping to ensure Hertfordshire provides a good supply of employment sites;
- Doing more to grow our own future workforce and preparing our small businesses to be fit and ready to compete.
Mark Bretton, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP, said; "Our job in the LEP is to help bring accelerated growth. Our Strategic Economic Plan and all the associated
projects are designed to do this and it therefore puts the LEP at the heart of delivering the Industrial Strategy."
Businesses were encouraged to have their say on the Industrial Strategy Green Paper and to become more involved with the LEP via its new business leaders' Envoy Programme.
Mark Coppen, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP's Envoy Programme, said: "Hertfordshire LEP is, in many ways, the county's best kept secret. And we don't want it to be a secret anymore. Its Envoys act as ambassadors for the LEP and help to ensure that the voice of business is reflected in what we do."
The conference coincided with Spring Budget Day. Professor Damian Ward, Dean of Hertfordshire Business School and Professor of Business Economics at the University of Hertfordshire, gave a Budget summary for delegates.
The Budget included a renewed commitment to improving productivity and innovation with:
- £23bn announced in Autumn Statement – of that £300m is to support brightest research talent including 1,000 new PhD places focussed on STEM subjects;
- £270m to keep UK at forefront of 'disruptive technologies' – BioTech, Robotics, Driverless Cars. This will help support local key sectors such as the space industry which uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence and robotics systems