Above: Nigel Tipple – speaking at November's OxLEP annual event
As 2022 comes to a close and we look forward with cautious optimism to 2023, it’s an opportunity for us all to take a moment and reflect on a 12 months that has been both a demanding and testing time for many, if not all businesses based in Oxfordshire.
The continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges brought about by the cost of living crisis – made worse by the rising costs of running a business – particularly the rise in energy prices impacting businesses and communities alike, has created what seems like a perfect storm.
Because of this, it’s important for organisations like OxLEP to continue to emphasise a positive outlook and recognise the need to help businesses to address the situations they respectively face.
Our role really has never been more critical and this has been evident throughout 2022.
I am therefore pleased to say that we have made a demonstrable impact, working with businesses of all sizes and from a broad range of sectors, supporting them to be both resilient and helping them to understand the opportunities available.
Our most recent impact report showed that OxLEP Business – between April 2021 and March this year – were able to engage with over 2,500 businesses and provided around 6,000 hours of support, worth an estimated £3.5 million.
In-turn, it’s believed that the support provided helped to safeguard 388 jobs in Oxfordshire that could have otherwise been lost to the local economy.
Meanwhile, our online business support tool – which was completed by 535 businesses during the same period – generated bespoke business action plans for companies, directing them to relevant support and information, helping them to move business plans and ambitions forward.
And focusing on our international audience, we have ensured they have better understood Oxfordshire’s capabilities in sectors such as fusion, space and satellites, energy and electric vehicle technologies to name but a few.
This is a critical area of our work and we were delighted to work closely with our Department for International Trade colleagues to land 38 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in Oxfordshire during the last financial year.
The significant level of investment into Oxfordshire has also had a positive impact on job levels in the county, with data indicating over 450 jobs were supported across the county through Oxfordshire FDI investments alone.
Equally as important to us was the role that we play – alongside many partner organisations – to stimulate our business community’s appetite for innovation and to embrace change. In so doing, encouraging many to become more sustainable, agile and aware of the opportunities opening-up in a new global marketplace, post-European Union exit.
One of our major capital programme projects, the Green Constructions Skills Centre – located at Abingdon and Witney College’s Abingdon campus – opened to students this year and is set to address a shortage of green construction trade capabilities across Oxfordshire, creating a pipeline of talent that is able to support the delivery of future, sustainable homes and commercial premises.
The centre benefited from £2.68 million-worth of funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund scheme and sits alongside £1 billion-worth of investment secured by OxLEP and our partners into the county to-date, not just benefiting individual companies and workforces, but many communities too.
Further key capital programmes delivered over the past 12 months include the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ project – supporting the temporary repurposing of existing business and retail space – the Oxford Brookes Enterprise Centre, which provides critical space and technical expertise to start-ups, spin-outs and small businesses in the biotech and digital sectors, and of course the Osney Mead-based Energy Systems Accelerator pilot – better known as Mini TESA – a world-leading multi-disciplinary hub, championing innovative energy systems transition.
Few of these exciting opportunities though would come to fruition and meet their potential within Oxfordshire without the right talent, whether that be attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs to the county – including those from overseas – or laying the foundations and inspiring young people from across Oxfordshire to embrace the opportunity that exists here.
The role of our Skills team, continuing to build meaningful relationships between business and academia, will always be important to our county’s success. Given the impacts of the pandemic and our exit from European Union, finding and nurturing new talent for our world-leading sectors is as critical as ever.
Our Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards are now a major highlight of the county’s business calendar. They serve as a showcase for our the incredibly-talented apprentices and the opportunities that exist in the county.
This year’s event was as big as any and saw a cohort of new, highly-driven talent gain the recognition that they deserved, whilst also inspiring more young people to move into an apprenticeship role.
Meanwhile, our £1.7m Social Contract programme – amongst several key objectives – encourages businesses in Oxfordshire to utilise their apprenticeship levy and create training programmes either for their own company, or by supporting smaller businesses’ growth by committing to a levy transfer arrangement.
We really encourage as many businesses as possible to engage with us on this exciting new programme, ultimately helping to maintain talent in Oxfordshire.
So, as we leave 2022 in the rear view mirror, I know that I speak for all of my OxLEP colleagues in saying that we really do hope that our commitment and recognition of the challenges facing our many businesses was not lost on you and that we were able to deliver solutions to the issues that you may have faced in a proactive way.
We do of course recognise that is not straight forward and we will continue to innovate, learn and respond as we head into 2023 .
And so to the new year: It’s worth remembering that behind each statistic is either a business we’ve helped through a potential crisis, somebody’s job secured, or a young person inspired by career options. It’s something we are very proud of.
We are determined to reach out to even more businesses who are yet to benefit from our work and that is our aim for 2023.
I wish you all an excellent festive period and a prosperous next 12 months.