Yesterday’s budget announcements from the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak recognised the continued need to support sectors worst-hit by the pandemic, but also the imperativeness of major investment in world-class science and innovation.
Firstly, the retail and hospitality sectors have been severely impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with significant losses in trade due to a lack of footfall brought about by pandemic restrictions – with this in mind, a 50% business rate discount for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in 2022/23 (up to a maximum of £110,000) will be welcomed by thousands of businesses in Oxfordshire.
As ever, the ‘devil will be in the detail’, but news that business rates relief of 50% for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will be extended – alongside the £1m investment allowance – plus the freezing of the business rates multiplier, will be welcomed by many in the private sector and those passionate about reinvigorating our high streets post-pandemic.
Being inventive when it comes to reinvigorating high streets and business space is key.
Our £1.9m Getting Building Fund-backed ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ project is an example of the role that we have played and can continue to play, with the programme breaking down barriers on business space and giving organisations a unique opportunity to develop, test and deliver services, breathing new life into underused spaces on Oxfordshire’s high streets.
Further down the line, we hope to see similar investment supporting these types of initiatives through the Shared Prosperity Fund.
It’s important that when thinking about ‘levelling-up’, we remember areas of our own county too.
The announcement of the £1.7bn Levelling Up Fund is therefore a funding stream that shouldn’t just be focused on rebalancing economies in the Midlands, the North and South West. Opportunities exist to drive collaboration between regions, to maximise capability and share growth for the benefit of UK PLC – that includes investment here in Oxfordshire which can support national supply chains and international markets, as well as our own communities and businesses.
The 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation stated that 10 of Oxford's 83 neighbourhood areas were among the 20% most deprived areas in England. As the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire – alongside our private and public sector partners – it’s vital to continue highlight the need for investment in the county and not get left behind in the discussion.
The good news for young people in Oxfordshire is that major opportunities do exist on our doorstop.
Our internationally-renowned science parks – including Milton Park, Culham Science Centre, Harwell Campus, Begbroke Science Park and Oxford Science Park – are home to hundreds of businesses and projects delivering world-changing technologies and solutions. With this mind, the Chancellor’s commitment to increasing core science funding to £5.9bn by 2024/25 is good news for Oxfordshire.
Our innovation ecosystem is one of the best globally – evidenced most-recently by the development of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – and with global capabilities in the fields of fusion, electric vehicle technologies and the development of effective renewable energies to name but a few, this increase in investment can only help further leverage our lead role on a global stage within science and innovation and the drive towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.
From a skills-perspective, the Chancellor cited an increase in apprenticeship funding to £2.7bn by 2024/25. Given the industries that we boast here in Oxfordshire, apprenticeships can – and will – offer unrivalled opportunities for young people.
With this in mind, it’s vital that we all continue to promote apprenticeship opportunities to our business community, highlighting the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies, harnessing new talent and generating new ideas. Our annual Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards is the perfect platform for this.
Upskilling, the diversification of skills and collaborative working spaces – particularly in-relation to creating a future zero-carbon economy – is also vital. Therefore, £68m-worth of funding by 2024/25 to ‘level up the adult skills system and ensure local areas can spend funding where it’s needed most’, is a positive step forward.
It’s an area that we have recognised in Oxfordshire historically too and a strong proportion of the £1bn-worth of funding that we and our partners have secured for the county to-date has supported that approach.
This includes The Energy Systems Accelerator (TESA) project – a co-working space at Osney Mead in Oxford, supporting UK innovation in net zero-carbon systems – the £7.8m Oxfordshire Centre for Technology and Innovation, and a soon-to-be-developed new Green Constructions Skills Centre, delivered by Abingdon and Witney College, that will help meet the forecast demand for green skills in the future.
Supporting our business community to find their feet again post-pandemic is of course key.
Oxford Brookes University is leading the way in delivering the Government’s ‘Help To Grow’ programme, operating as one of the accredited business schools delivering this programme, alongside our own Business and Skills support programmes .
We too are ready to continue to play a lead role in supporting our business community.
Since the first lockdown, we have supported over 2,000 Oxfordshire-based businesses with COVID-specific issues and provided almost £2million-worth of advice and mentoring, whilst administering in excess of £5million-worth of direct grant funding into businesses across multiple sectors.
Finally, though there was no direct reference to the emerging Oxford-Cambridge Arc in the Chancellor’s announcement, it will be important to continue to highlight how the Arc’s science and innovation-led economy – aligned with our own innovation ecosystem in Oxfordshire – can lead a post-Brexit, post-COVID UK economy.
Chief Executive – OxLEP