As 2019 draws to a close and we begin to look ahead to what’s set to be a busy 2020, it is important we reflect on what this year has meant for Oxfordshire economically.
Like most economies, the past 12 months has seen a number of positive headlines, but we’ve had a number of challenges to overcome too.
This year – as the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire – we have continued to work collaboratively alongside our many stakeholders and partners. We have engaged our MPs – through our quarterly House of Commons economic briefings – ensuring they have a stronger understanding of the truly ‘global’ potential of this county and, in particular, our world-class transformative technologies.
Our Westminster engagement has centred around these transformative technologies – key, disruptive sectors set to have a major impact right across the globe. Here in Oxfordshire, we have particular ‘world-class’ potential across several sectors, namely: digital health, space-led data applications, connected and autonomous vehicles and technologies underpinning quantum computing. A really strong set of assets for us to hang our ‘economic hat’ from.
We continue to benefit from a thriving visitor economy too, with a recent Experience Oxfordshire report announcing that the county saw a 5.1% increase in visitor spend during the past year, taking the sector’s overall value up to £2.28bn, due – in part – to some of the iconic visitor attractions we are home to.
The county continues to have a worldwide presence and remains a popular place to invest, something we will look to progress further in the new year, through our newly-launched China Prospectus and additional partner activity.
A stand-out moment of 2019 was the launch of the Oxfordshire Local Industrial Strategy at our Annual Review event in September – there, we set out the county’s ambition to position Oxfordshire as one of the world’s top-three innovation ecosystems.
Meanwhile, in November, we launched the Oxfordshire Energy Strategy – a strategy that is committed to reducing countywide emissions by 50% by 2030 (compared with 2008 levels), as well as galvanising pioneers in clean growth to support the scaling-up of future solutions and accelerate delivery towards a net zero-carbon county.
Whilst 2019 may have seen uncertainty in parts, just last week, the Conservatives secured a significant majority in the House of Commons at the general election, which will likely mean that Brexit will now happen, bringing about some certainty which we may have been missing.
Whatever form of Brexit is eventually secured, during 2020, it will be our role to work with our business community to ensure they understand what it means to them, as well as helping them to identify potential opportunities.
OxLEP Business’ one-to-one support is a critical way in which we will be supporting our business community to understand Brexit.
Over the past year, we’ve seen significant achievements from the county’s SME and scale-up communities too.
Back in March, the ScaleUp Institute recognised this when they revealed that 480 companies in the county met the definition of ‘scale-up’ due to an increase in annual turnover or employment by more than 20%. This was further reiterated in November, when it was revealed that – along with four others – Oxfordshire had seen the highest scale-up growth of any Local Enterprise Partnership area relative to their population between 2014 and 2017.
Just last month, we launched our eScalate programme at our ‘Celebration of our Journey and Future’ event, held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Our eScalate programme offers business support and grant funding for social enterprises and scale-ups – and as we move into 2020 – we will continue to offer this support programme to Oxfordshire’s thriving business community.
This year also saw the launch of the Oxfordshire Skills for Business programme and the Oxfordshire Careers Hub. We also held another successful Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards event, recognising the importance of meaningful apprenticeship schemes to both young people and businesses themselves.
Applications for the 2020 apprenticeship awards – which will be held at the WilliamsF1 Conference Centre on 2 April – will close on 13 January. We will continue to champion all aspects of apprenticeships through the awards.
Facilitating and investing in the development of a world-class, skilled future workforce has been a mainstay of our work during 2019. Vital programmes such the opening of Abingdon and Witney College’s Livestock Technology Centre and the Oxford BioEscalator – schemes part-funded through the Local Growth Fund and City Deal – made the headlines.
Underpinning these headlines is our commitment to ‘place’ and the communities who live within the county. Our residents must feel the benefit of this growth in their localities – this is an approach we recognised in our Local Industrial Strategy commitments, promoting prosperity and working with the refreshed Oxfordshire Growth Board to promote an ‘Inclusive Growth Commission’.
Our ambition is to ensure residents – young and old – can access employment opportunities or benefit from the technological advances promoted by our innovative business community.
It’s also safe to say that our successful economy continues to be recognised externally too. Headline achievements during 2019 include; Oxford winning both the top UK city for economy and wellbeing (Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities report) and being announced as the number one-ranked university in the world (Times Higher Education) for a fourth year in a row.
As we move into the new year, we will continue to work with the same ambition, collaborating with key partners – locally, nationally and internationally – emphasising the true potential Oxfordshire has and work with existing communities to realise that opportunity.
With this in mind, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – we’ll see you in 2020!