As I write this message, sadly, the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus is creating difficulties across the UK. It would be very easy to depart 2021 reflecting on these latest concerns. Of course – it’s important for us all to remain vigilant over the festive period and into the new year – however, I would like to take this opportunity to look back on the positive role we have played over the past 12 months, supporting and championing our business community and many world-class sectors.
Firstly, I have to pay tribute to our team at OxLEP and their unwavering commitment to supporting our business community.
I should also highlight the significant Oxfordshire ‘whole system’ approach which has seen our local authority, health partners and community groups working together to support the county as a whole at its time of need.
As for our team specifically, over the past 18 months alone, we have engaged with over 2,600 Oxfordshire-based businesses (and counting) and provided over 12,000 hours of business support.
In addition, during 2021, we launched and committed £2m-plus of funding via our Business Investment Fund, continued to attract businesses – from multiple sectors, both nationally and internationally – to the county, as well as helping to ensure business, education and young people maintained strong dialogue, including via our new digital platform ‘Find Your Future’.
I hope that our commitment was evident to you all during what continues to be such tough times for thousands of businesses.
We too have embraced much change during 2021.
In early summer, we formalised our own move to being a digitalised business, with an operational hub also located at Harwell Campus. Like all businesses, we have needed to evaluate our own approach to work and we hope that our new business model has given you strong and effective support that you need at this critical time.
Since our formation 10 years ago, we have secured a staggering £1bn-worth of funding for the Oxfordshire economy. Much of this investment is now showing real impact and legacy across a whole host of communities and business interests in the county.
Our latest delivery plan suggests that our Local Growth Fund programme alone is on-track to enable £693m of additional funding and indirectly support 7,791 jobs by 2025.
We have continued to make investment available to support our economy over the past 12 months aligned to our Economic recovery plan with projects such as; ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’, the Green Construction Skills Centre, the Activate Hospitality Suite, the Earth Lab and Life Sciences Lab Space at the Wood Centre for Innovation receiving support.
As we move into 2022, it remains important for us to work with you – the Oxfordshire business community – to continue to understand both the challenges and opportunities that you face, ensuring that our programmes give you the best opportunity to be productive and indeed, resilient given the continued challenges brought about by COVID-19.
Promoting our innovation ecosystem also remains an important part of our work. Oxfordshire continues to be a place of genuine opportunity and a county of continued, world-leading innovation.
For example, just last month, we saw the introduction of an autonomous passenger shuttle trial at Harwell Campus, helping to demonstrate the potential of self-driving vehicles in real life settings – these are new, ground-breaking transformative technologies being born in Oxfordshire and its key that young people and those with the most-entrepreneurial minds recognise just what Oxfordshire has to offer.
We also need to ensure that the ‘voice of business’ continues to be heard when it comes to future planning for Oxfordshire too.
This year, we have ensured the views of business were heard across multiple sectors as the emerging Oxfordshire Plan 2050 reached its consultation stage, helping to ensure that a ‘future Oxfordshire’ is one that fully-embraces business, with an infrastructure that matches this ambitious community.
Then there is of course the climate emergency, which none of us can ignore.
Last month, we were delighted to host an official COP26 event in Oxford: ‘The Billion Tonne Drop’, showcasing how a cleaner, more sustainable future for everyone can be supported through the technologies being generated here in Oxfordshire.
WATCH AGAIN: Showcasing Oxfordshire's capabilities ahead of 'The Billion Tonne Drop'.
Ensuring that as wide an international audience as possible understand Oxfordshire’s capabilities in fusion, space and satellites, solar technologies and electric vehicle technologies to name but a few is a critical area of our work, but – just as importantly – so is the importance of stimulating our business community to embrace change too and help them to create positive steps to become more sustainable businesses.
Over the next 12 months, this will no doubt be a priority for us, working closely with our whole system partners and a range of key stakeholders who are experts in this field.
Few of these exciting opportunities though would come to fruition 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. Given the pandemic and our exit from European Union, finding and nurturing new talent for our world-leading sectors is as critical as ever and – if I were to leave one message for our business community – it would be this: Create new opportunities.
We know the past 18 months has been hugely damaging for many businesses and the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt by many – however, by inspiring the most inquisitive minds and by investing in opportunities, not only can you develop meaningful openings for our young people, but – in-turn – you will ensure new skills and new ideas will continue to enter your business and crucial times.
Help IS out there and our OxLEP Skills team would be delighted to speak to employers across Oxfordshire, of any size and any sector.
On behalf of everyone at OxLEP, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2022.
Thank you as always for your continued support, and please stay safe and well – ‘Oxfordshire Needs You’.