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Rutland County Council leader Lucy Stephenson speaks about the impact of the Global Birdfair on the economy

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I had the pleasure of attending the Global Bird Fair last weekend – not in any official capacity but as a trade stand holder, writes leader of Rutland County Council Lucy Stephenson (Con).

Part of this pleasure was meeting lots of people who had travelled from far and wide to be there. This, of course, has the added advantage of boosting our local hospitality sector – lots of hungry mouths to feed and tired legs ready for a sound sleep! It is always lovely to hear visitors saying how beautiful and welcoming our county is.

I was also able to meet local people, some of whom were part of the impressive volunteer crew who make this type of event possible.

Lucy Stephenson
Lucy Stephenson

Some of our conversations touched on Rutland County Council and whether the council should give money to support events such as the Global Bird Fair. Events boost the visitor economy, so is it the council’s duty to support this endeavour with hard cash? It is a point that has been made in other forums and about other events.

I think context is everything: budget and priorities. Our budget is running at a managed deficit, but demand on services is increasing. This includes essential care and support services that are both statutory (we must legally provide them) and morally the right thing to do (spending on those most in need so that we are a county for everyone). This means that priorities must be set and stuck to, even when there are legitimate and compelling arguments to deviate.

Clearly, the economy is incredibly important for any county: a buoyant economy helps communities to prosper and flourish, ensuring social mobility. In many ways, Rutland is in a strong position. We have an extensive and highly resilient network of local businesses across a huge range of sectors – businesses which are renowned for their creativity and innovation. It’s therefore imperative that our economy is nurtured with the aid of a clear and deliverable plan.

This ethos is reflected in the council’s new Corporate Strategy, which was approved by councillors earlier this month. It contains a total of 25 commitments, one of which is to develop a new economic strategy for Rutland. Part of this work must be to ensure the role of the council is clearly defined and understood. I would tentatively suggest that asking the council to waive fees for road closures or to give money for a certain event is not strategic. We need to think bigger: infrastructure that enables rather than inhibits; a digitally connected business sector; how we plan and develop our transport offer; how we create an environment that supports a variety of skilled jobs for our younger generation.

To be successful and develop a plan that is ‘right for Rutland’, while also ensuring any plan is deliverable, the council must work in partnership with businesses. The diverse nature of our business community could mean that consensus is hard to reach but I see it is as a positive. Through discussion and debate with business of all kinds, we will develop an economic plan that is meaningful, robust and – above all – delivers for Rutland and all those who live, work and play here.

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