Christian Brodie, Chair, South East Local Enterprise Partnership, offers his views on where Essex currently stands as it looks to recover from the Covid pandemic.
Though we remain cautious, we are starting to see the beginning of economic recovery measures being put in place as the country takes its first tentative steps towards normality following this world-changing pandemic.
The projects for the South East LEP’s £85 million share of the Government’s £900 million Getting Building Fund (GBF) have been announced, with 13 projects making the final list for Essex totalling £29 million in GBF allocation. A further £7.8 million was allocated for five projects across South Essex, including Southend and Thurrock.
We are delighted that Government has recognised the excellent projects and potential that the South East has to drive forward our economy at this challenging time. These projects have been carefully selected to target those areas and industries particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and those that can progress, at pace, to support economic recovery.
The South East LEP has a proven track record of delivering successful projects and has been working really closely with our local areas to understand what our businesses need and where investment will have significant impact.
These projects in Essex will create 2,486 new jobs and safeguard a further 2,601. They will develop 20,550sq m in commercial space, unlock 1,093 homes and support 753 businesses, as well as assist 4,187 learners. A further 2,155 jobs, 1,000 homes and 16,706sq m of commercial space will be created in South Essex, as well as 500 learners being assisted. Breakdowns of projects can be found on SELEP’s Getting Building Fund page.
Among these projects is Swan Housing, a new facility for a modular housing factory in Basildon to support the fast pace of housing construction to meet pressing demand. This project, which secured a GBF allocation of £4.53 million, will deliver up to an additional 1,000 homes per year and will create 87 new jobs.
There is also a £7 million investment in an Enterprise Centre for local businesses at the Horizon 120 Business and Innovation Park near Braintree. This will include an incubation hub for start-ups; innovation hub for small businesses; entrepreneurship hub for businesses aiming to stabilise and consolidate; training facilities; and a virtual hub for businesses owned by individuals working from home. This project will create 450 new jobs for the area and unlock 2,500sq m of commercial space.
Alongside business support, the projects chosen for GBF allocation also focus on areas and industries that are in desperate need of support, particularly following the COVID-19 crisis. The Tendring Bikes and Cycle Infrastructure project – which secured a £2.3 million GBF allocation – will deliver a bespoke bike scheme and cycle network infrastructure within Jaywick Sands and Clacton, aimed at tackling inequality within one of the most deprived communities in Essex. This project will create 119 jobs for the area.
To ensure that Essex business owners are properly outfitted to recover from the pandemic, a further £2.5 million has been earmarked accelerate and extend the deployment and rollout of full-fibre broadband in rural and hard-to-reach areas across Essex. These are areas across the county with huge potential for enterprise, and these projects will help to ensure fast deployment for better connectivity.
Our recent Coronavirus Business Recovery Survey found that sentiment among Essex businesses has remained somewhat optimistic over the pandemic, with 30% of Essex businesses surveyed stating that the pandemic had brought new opportunities for them, and close to 15% said they expect to increase staff levels over the next 12 months. Our aim is to ensure that these businesses have all the tools in place to start recovering not just their own operations, but the local economy as a whole.
Supporting local businesses
Over the last few months, we as a LEP have been providing support to local businesses in other ways. Our Growth Hubs have been offering advice to struggling businesses and directing them to funding support. The Growth Hub for Essex, BEST Growth Hub, has a repository of coronavirus-related information on its website, and we encourage local business to make use of this excellent service by getting in touch to receive advice on funding options, grants, and how to grow or start a business.
We have also reworked our own existing funding pots to create new COVID-19 funds for businesses, infrastructure investment and skills training. These funding pots will make a big difference, not just in the short-term but well into the future. We are taking steps to ensure that businesses do not merely survive this crisis, but have the tools and skills in place to thrive and flourish in a newly wrought economic backdrop.
We truly believe that the South East will help lead the country out of the crisis and into recovery. Alongside the Getting Building Fund, the measures we have taken – and are still taking through our Growth Hubs to provide constant support to businesses – will help to provide the next phase of financial stimulus to restart our economy.