In Hertfordshire, we’ve been working hard on how best to protect, preserve and recover as some of our key employment sectors have been hit heavily by the coronavirus outbreak.
Our creative industries, travel, leisure and retail sectors have been and will further be severely impacted – other regions around the UK are, of course, also dealing with the current and impending reality which COVID-19 will leave behind.
A large number of our residents commute to work in London in financial services industries that have also been significantly affected, while many also work at or in business serving Luton and Stansted airports, which sit on either side of Hertfordshire. The construction industry is also coming to terms with this new reality.
It is a reality nobody could have envisaged a few months ago, and one which has certainly dramatically altered the environment in which I would initially have expected to be working as director of Hertfordshire growth for the Hertfordshire Growth Board (HGB).
I’m really excited by my new role. The fact that it is a newly created position only adds to my determination to be successful in supporting Hertfordshire and the growth board partners in achieving their place-based and economic ambitions, particularly from the testing times the county is experiencing because of COVID-19.
However, our residents and businesses are understandably mainly interested in the here and now. The need to support the creation of new jobs and the recovery of our key sectors is now far more acute than it was at the start of 2020.
Before COVID-19, our economy was very strong as a key contributor to UK Plc. It will continue to be, but now a different approach is needed. It makes sense to look at long-term interventions, working with our partners and providing support.
Through the focus of the Hertfordshire Growth Board over the last 12 months, we’ve developed a comprehensive approach to place-based work that adopts a long-term view of the county’s economic, strategic planning and infrastructure needs.
We reacted swiftly to take stock of current priorities in that work programme and put a ‘COVID-19 recovery and economic restart’ lens over them. Many of these - such as growth corridors, joint spatial plans, new communities and town centre regeneration as well as supporting our key employment sectors - will remain high on our list of priorities, while others such as digital reconfiguration will inevitably be more important as we look to a future characterised by a far greater working-from-home culture when this crisis ends.
Through this work and with the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), one of the 12 members of the HGB, we want everybody to be confident that the right steps are being taken to support economic recovery and good growth through the place-based innovation we are planning, now and in the future.
The Hertfordshire LEP has seen a massive rise in businesses contacting its Growth Hub for support and guidance. Likewise, the county council and the county’s 10 district and borough councils have worked together to make sure the distribution of grants and support to businesses has been a priority during these uncertain and turbulent times.
That is the essence of our Growth Board’s ambitions, working in partnership across a two-tier system to maximise the sum of the working parts. It provides a real opportunity to support all partners in achieving more than they might be able to do separately. There’s a real enthusiasm and a willingness to step forward to support projects for the benefit of the wider county – not just their own district. The commitment to collaboration that has developed over the last few years has been impressive.
Making things happen for the benefit of people, places and communities is what gets me up in the morning. In Hertfordshire, there’s a large number of partners around the Growth Board table and an ambitious programme to deliver. It’s central to this role to support that momentum and delivery, and I’m delighted to be able to do this.
Patsy Dell is director of Hertfordshire growth for the Hertfordshire Growth Board