As we look ahead to 2018 – and look back on the last 12 months – is clear that Oxfordshire is not only a great place to set-up, grow or do business, but is also a mainstay behind an effective ‘UK PLC’.
Our vision for the county is for it to benefit from ‘a vibrant, sustainable, inclusive, world-leading economy – driven by innovation, enterprise and research excellence’ and – in 2017 – it is clear that our economy has consistently met this vision and, moreover, it is being recognised globally and by central government too.
In recent months, Oxfordshire has continued to reaffirm a world-leading economic position with several reports from global organisations citing our economic strengths.
In October, PwC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities’ report cited Oxford as being one of the two highest-performing cities – in relation to growth – anywhere in the UK. This followed a study by Irwin Mitchell that revealed Oxford had the second fastest-growing economy of any UK city.
From a small business point of view, our economy also paints a positive story.
A report from the Office of National Statistics suggested Oxford is one of the best locations in the UK to start a business, with half currently surviving its first five years of trading, whilst Nesta’s ‘State of Small Business’ report – published in October – cited South Oxfordshire as having one of highest five-year survival rates anywhere in the UK.
As well as having an economy that supports our small business community, what continues to emerge is how Oxfordshire can play a serious role in ensuring the UK economy is a success globally.
With two government-backed enterprise zones located in Oxfordshire – specifically-pinpointed as areas that can support significant growth – and globally-recognised locations like Harwell Campus, Culham Science Centre and Milton Park, Oxfordshire is in prime position to drive forward the UK economy, post-Brexit.
Undoubtedly, the biggest political development over the past 18 months – and probably for a generation – was the country’s decision to leave the European Union.
Ahead of this year’s general election, the prime minister Theresa May committed to creating ‘a strong economy built on sound public finances, low taxes, better regulation and free trade deals with markets around the world’.
Mrs May clearly has an appetite for a global future post-Brexit, encouraging trade with countries from outside of the EU and aiming to create conditions for this to happen.
Now that an agreement has been met to move Brexit negotiations on to a trade discussion, this will help to reassure Oxfordshire businesses.
These developments are of course out of our hands – but whatever Brexit brings; we believe that the Oxfordshire economy is an agile one and our new year message to the county’s business community is that we have the capacity to rise to the challenge of a post-Brexit economy.
Away from Brexit – having an economic climate that embraces dynamic growth, like we do in Oxfordshire, is important, though so is the need for it to be underpinned by an equally strong infrastructure that boasts good-quality, affordable housing and a sound transport network.
As new jobs are being generated – around 40,000 in the county over the last five years – Oxfordshire will attract more people. Therefore, growth and infrastructure development need to work as holistically as possible. Chancellor Philip Hammond committed £215million-worth of investment – over the next five years – at November’s Budget, which will boost infrastructure and productivity in Oxfordshire and support the delivery of new homes across the county by 2031.
The Chancellor also said the Government would review recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), following its report detailing opportunities across the ‘Oxford-Cambridge Corridor’.
Over the next 12 months, further developments around both the county’s growth deal and NIC recommendations will evolve, as will how we can play our part in boosting UK productivity through the recently-announced Industrial Strategy. In September, the county’s Science Innovation Audit suggested Oxfordshire can play a major global role in driving forward the UK economy through four transformative technologies – quantum computers, autonomous vehicles, digital health and space and satellites.
If fully-utilised, the audit suggests the technologies could be worth in the region of £180billion by 2030 – around six per cent of the global economy in these technologies.
What is for sure is that the coming 12 months and beyond will present Oxfordshire with major opportunities – both locally and globally – and they are opportunities that we must capitalise on.
Nigel Tipple - Chief Executive