Matthew Lee's speech to the 2018 economic business summit
Here is the speech by Coun Matthew Lee, the leader of South Kesteven District Council, given at the 2018 Economic Business Summit held at Grimsthorpe Castle on Thursday, October 11.
One year ago I said that growing the economy is our number one priority.
It remains so.
I said that we would do everything we can as a council to help businesses start up, grow and stay here in South Kesteven.
I said that we would do more than just try to help businesses;
I said we would play our part by investing public money to accelerate a range of strategic projects that will stimulate private investment
and accelerate the growth of our local economy.
So, when I said growing the economy was our number one priority, it wasn’t a throwaway comment – it was a firm commitment.
Indeed, as you heard a moment ago, growth is so important that not only have we placed it at the centre of our new Corporate Strategy, we’ve structured our entire organisation around it.
Reshaping any organisation can be a colossal challenge - and our council is no different.
Our scale of ambition is such, that the only way to realise it is by building the very best team possible…
So that’s what we’re doing – and we’re setting the bar high - creating the conditions for excellence:
Firstly; we are assembling the best possible team of people;
Secondly; we are fostering a ‘culture of possibility’;
Thirdly; we are permitting a spirit of fearlessness;
And fourth; we will hold ourselves to the highest levels of accountability, all of which leads to…
A council that is prepared to think and act differently.
So, we are creating the foundations for our future success.
At the same time, we’ve made sound progress on growing our economy over the last twelve months.
Despite the current uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations, our local economy is demonstrating resilience and a focus on exploiting whatever opportunities may ultimately emerge.
That’s why I can stand before you tonight and pledge my ongoing commitment to the long-term economic success of South Kesteven.
Tonight, I’d like to explain why I think growing the economy is so important.
In a word, opportunity.
Growing the economy creates opportunities for you as businesses and for our residents.
I want South Kesteven to provide opportunities, not just for some, but for everyone:
Opportunities for high quality skills training
Job opportunities that lead to meaningful careers
Opportunities to get on, or move up, the housing ladder
Opportunities to enjoy art, culture and leisure
Opportunities to work in the community and give something back
And the opportunity for us as a District Council to play an ever more fundamental role at the heart of our communities
I want South Kesteven to be somewhere young people aspire to stay, not aspire to leave.
For our council, growing the economy doesn’t just create opportunities, it also gives us options.
We’re clear that the economic success of our District will generate revenues that can then be invested back into our communities and into the priorities they care about.
It means we can invest in things that the market alone is unlikely to provide, such as arts, culture and heritage.
Above all, it means that we can be masters of our own destiny.
In short, I believe that generating these opportunities is the right thing to do.
But I’m also clear that pursuing financial security is the wise thing to do.
Now, you might be wondering what a District Council is doing referring to things that are not, strictly speaking, within our traditional remit.
Just because we are not responsible for something doesn’t mean that we won’t get involved or provide help.
We want to make a wide-ranging contribution and, as you will hear consistently tonight; we very much are.
I’ll give you an example.
When our district was badly affected by the severe weather back in February, there were a number of days when it was simply too dangerous for our bin lorries to do their rounds.
Instead of sending the crews home, we redeployed them to help clear snow and grit pavements and keep our town centres open across the District.
I should explain that, gritting is not the responsibility of a District Council. It is, in fact, the job of the County Council.
However, these are our residents;
our businesses and;
it is our local economy;
So of course we stepped in to help;
ensuring that South Kesteven could stay ‘open for business.’
In other words, we took the initiative for the good of our District.
But what has all this got to do with a business audience like you?
Well, history shows us that successful economies don’t happen in isolation.
Nor do they happen as a result of injections of financial support alone.
No, successful economies need skills;
they need places for people to live, work and spend their leisure time;
they need contented families with access to good schools and good services.
They revolve around strong communities which respect and celebrate their rich cultural heritage; proud of their past but always open to progress.
So, a sustainable community is not just the right thing to do; it is a critical element of our long-term economic success.
Now, I’m open to new ideas and new ways of working;
not just doing things the way we’ve always done them.
But equally, I’m not someone to make changes for change’s sake.
I’m determined to keep talking to businesses to understand your needs and find out where we can offer practical help;
whatever may have gone before OR what the ‘rulebook’ may say.
These may not be things you’d expect the leader of a council to say.
But we’re not just a council.
And we don’t just collect bins!
We are at the heart of our community, providing more than 140 essential services.
We are a multi-million pound organisation with over 600 staff serving nearly 140,000 residents.
We are well connected politically, both locally and, increasingly, nationally.
This gives us better access to key decision-makers and generates new opportnities for investment into our District.
We have the largest and one of the fastest growing economies in the county area of Lincolnshire.
We benefit from close proximity to Peterborough and Cambridge and easy access to London.
We have transport links and connectivity that many districts can only dream of.
So, not only should we capitalise on all of our strengths for the benefit of our residents – we must.
And we have one central objective - to create opportunities for all the people we serve.
At last year’s summit I announced ambitions to grow our economy by an additional £1.2 billion pounds over the next 20 years.
And I said we would do this in two ways.
Firstly, by supporting existing local businesses to grow and thrive and attract new ones into South Kesteven.
And secondly, to put the council’s money to work to deliver a £40 million pound investment programme to deliver a series of strategic projets, all of which will be complete or underway by 2020.
As well as delivering key projects, this investment will help stimulate further private investment of around £400 million pounds, generating even more opportunities for new jobs, skills and growth.
In stating my commitment to support economic growth last year, I was also very clear that the public sector doesn’t grow the economy – the private sector does.
You provide opportunities for employment
You produce, manufacture and deliver the goods and services that make us competitive
You raise the profile of the district through your business networks
And you innovate for the future.
So our opportunity is to help you succeed.
To do that, last year I announced the creation of InvestSK as a ‘bridge’ between the council and the business community.
The team operates at arm’s length from the council, which means InvestSK offers the best of both worlds; it can offer expert business advice and is also plugged directly into the inner workings of the council.
As well as supporting businesses, InvestSK is responsible for driving our agenda on arts, heritage and the visitor economy.
These are all activities that enable us to stike the important balance between improving the quality of life for our residents; retaining key skills; and attracting more visitors to come and enjoy the delights of our beautiful and historic area.
So, how is InvestSK doing?
To answer that, I’ll quote one of our local business leaders;
Dan Hiblin of REH Companies, who is here this evening, described the difference between where we were twelve months ago and where we are now as being like ‘night and day’!
Thank you, Dan – I’m delighted to hear it.
Thanks to InvestSK, businesses can now pick up the phone to a dedicated team who know and understand their business.
InvestSK is now operational, with a fully-staffed team.
And you have already heard from our – as of last week – full-time Chief Executive, Steve Bowyer.
The InvestSK team has connected with more than 100 businesses in the past year, not including the local retailers and stall holders they have been in contact with.
The team is currently handling around 50 enquiries from companies looking to grow, invest or expand.
That is a sign of real business confidence in South Kesteven.
The first business breakfast meetings have been extremely well-attended and I’m delighted to say that the feedback so far has been excellent.
The team is actively supporting a number of enquiries from companies outside the region, many of whom are keen to move into the district as soon as suitable premises become available.
InvestSK has already helped companies find their way to hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding and grants…
money that would have simply gone elsewhere.
So, InvestSK has made a good start in realising its core aim of supporting businesses.
But it has been created to contribute towards growth through a wide-range of activities.
Last year I said how important it was that our towns retained and developed their markets.
While there is much more to do, this year has seen a tremendous boost to their fortunes, thanks to the efforts of our new Town Centre Manager, Paul Allen and his team.
All of this is helping attract more shoppers to our markets and keep them there longer;
spending more money on the high street;
and stimulating the local retail economy.
Just as businesses are the lifeblood of our district, so people are the lifeblood of our businesses.
I have been very clear about the importance I place on the development of skills.
We are creating new opportunities not just for our young people; but people of all ages, in all walks of life; both those in and out of work.
We will continue to offer the skills development that our economy needs.
In light of the importance of skills in driving our economy, we will be hosting a major Skills Summit in the New Year.
This will not be just a ‘talking shop’ that leads nowhere: that is not how we work now.
This will lay the foundations for our work to drive new opportunities through a highly skilled and talented workforce.
As local businesses, you will be setting that direction and strategy and I encourage you all to participate in this event.
I know that you have talented people in your workforce – but I want to help you build that capacity even more, so that your companies continue to flourish.
I have long-held the ambition to provide more Higher Education in the district.
So, I am delighted to announce this evening that we have successfully attracted a grant of £2 million pounds from the Greater Lincolnshire LEP to establish a new University Centre in Grantham, sponsored by our partners at the University of Lincoln.
This will quickly give you and your employees local access to higher level courses and training.
But this is just the start.
As the first town of Lincolnshire, Grantham must have the ambition to match its potential. And this investment demonstrates real confidence in that potential.
I’m confident that this new university centre will make a huge contribution to our future success, offering a range of undergraduate, post graduate, vocational and professional courses.
When I set up InvestSK, it wasn’t only about business growth and economics.
It was also about helping create a better quality of life for our residents.
So I am pleased that we have a new Head of Arts, who will be driving the cultural agenda across our district.
Michael Cross has already met many local organisations and is embarking on an exciting programme of events and arts development, which will support local organisations and inspire our creative industries.
The Visitor Economy team has been busy showcasing all of the wonderful attractions we have here in South Kesteven.
It’s easy to forget that we have some of the finest and most historically significant buildings in the country, all of which attract visitors - and their spending power.
And again, I know, Andrew Norman has already established links with numerous local attractions, many of whom I’m delighted to see here tonight.
And I’m delighted to see that, at last, we are shouting about the virtues of our district as a whole through our Discover South Kesteven campaign.
We have internationally acclaimed events and festivals.
Gravity Fields, held just two weeks ago in Grantham, is now widely seen as one of the finest science festivals in the country.
This year we attracted an audience of nearly 90,000, with visitors from all over the UK.
20,000 people visited the breathtaking ‘Museum of the moon’ exhibition in St Wulfram’s Church!
I was therefore delighted to confirm that Gravity Fields is now a permanent fixture in our calendar.
And next year is another exciting year for our festivals.
We have the hugely popular Georgian Festival in Stamford and the Deepings Literary Festival.
In addition, the team is working to bring a ‘Cicle Festival’ to Bourne next year, which will include riders from across the country and which has the potential to grow into a major national or even international race.
We are also planning a fashion festival to celebrate the work of Charles Frederic Worth, one of the founders of modern fashion.
I am tremendously proud of all of the festivals that happen in our district – whether they are organised or supported by my teams, or are driven by our local communities.
Take the Deepings Literary Festival for example: that arose from the community coming together to save their local library.
Our task now is to spread the word about our growing programme of events here in South Kesteven.
I have spoken previously about the importance of creating a sense of ‘place’.
There are lots of things that contribute to making somewhere a good place to live; one of the key things is its identity.
Our heritage – the people that went before us -the places they built and the stories they created – all contribute towards our identity today.
Just look at the building around us; imagine the stories that these walls could tell!
Heritage has always been close to my heart, and I am pleased to announce tonight that we will be launching a Heritage Fund to support local organisations to access the resources they need to make their future plans a reality.
Please do seek out Claire Saunders, our new Heritage Regeneration Officer, who is in the audience tonight if you’d like to find out more.
There is one aspect of InvestSK that I haven’t talked about yet.
One of the central objectives I set last year was the generation of business intelligence;
the compilation of key statistics, trends and evidence that provide insight into our local economy;
and how it feeds into ‘UK Plc’.
Thanks to InvestSK, we are more informed than ever about the true state of our economy and where we need to deploy our resources.
And thanks to their analysis we can see opportunities to work with the private sector to help make things happen faster and at a greater scale.
That insight has led to the creation of DeliverSK.
DeliverSK is a commercial organisation that will be a 50:50 joint venture between the council and a private company that has experience of managing, funding and delivering medium to large-scale developments such as:
Public realm enhancements and
Once a scheme has been approved and the funding is in place, DeliverSK will tender the work to the market, providing the opportunity for businesses like yours, to invest in, and directly benefit from, the economic growth of our District.
The reality has been that too many Council-led projects have taken too long to be delivered – which is exactly why we created DeliverSK.
It will enable us to take a much more active role in the way opportunities are evaluated, how business cases are developed and how they are then delivered.
DeliverSK is about commercial thinking.
And working to commercial timescales.
And providing the funding projects we need to drive projects forward.
It will help us to play a more direct role in guiding the growth of our district and avoid us having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ for each project.
Instead we will have a much more consistent approach to delivering projects, each of which will be managed by DeliverSK through separate ‘special purpose vehicle.’
Ultimately, this is about accelerating growth by working with and alongside the private sector, not attempting to replace it.
Having now approved its creation, I am pleased to confirm that we are in discussions with a number of companies about working with us on this exciting commercial partnership.
The provision of suitable housing is also an essentialpart of our future success.
A successful local economy must provide for those at the upper and lower ends of the income scale.
As a council, South Kesteven is relatively unusual in that we own our own stock of over six thousand houses, but the truth is that even with this, we are still unable to meet current levels of demand.
Because of this, I’ve long campaigned for the freedom for councils to build more houses.
That’s why I welcome the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to lift the long-standing borrowing cap on our Housing Revenue Account.
This in effect means that we can now borrow more freely against the income that our stock generates, in order to enable us to build more houses.
Along with other council leaders, I have written to the Prime Minister, urging her to ensure that civil servants make good on her commitment, enabling us to get on with the job of building more affordable homes.
I will make further announcements on how we intend to make this happen towards the end of the year.
SKDC is already working in the housing market through its wholly-owned company, Gravitas Housing.
Now, working with DeliverSK, it will focus its efforts on small-scale housing developments and supporting local builders, developers and self-builders – the needs of which are very different to the larger building developers.
In some instances, Gravitas may do the building itself.
In others it may be easier to do so by obtaining outline planning permission and creating the infrastructure before ‘parcelling up’ the land into plots and putting them on the market.
Last year I announced that after many years of planning and preparation, we were finally ready to commence the building of a new cinema complex in Grantham.
Tonight, I can report that construction is well underway and that the new cinema will be opening in 2019, managed by Nottingham-based Savoy Cinemas.
I must admit, it’s good to be able to stand here and report that we are nearing completion on what is, in effect, my administration’s first major project – the first of many.
Last year I also made a commitment to renewing and upgrading our leisure provision across the District.
This is a major undertaking and will represent a significant investment in each of our four market towns.
Plans for this investment are progressing well and will see the provision of new leisure centres in Stamford and Market Deeping.
We will also be keeping and investing heavily in our facilities in Bourne and Grantham.
We are currently in the process of determining locations for each of these new sites and what facilities will be provided, and we intend to announce the details in early 2019.
Last year I also committed to creating much-needed space for small businesses to grow, and for medium-sized companies to expand.
This is a good example of the public sector accelerating delivery, rather than waiting for the market to act alone.
On other occasions we need to act.
One of the factors that can stifle growth is ‘landbanking’, where developers sit on land as it increases in value, rather than putting it to use.
Much-needed employment land providing office space, and the growth opportunities it creates, could be lost for generations of young people.
So, in the right circumstances, we are prepared to act decisively in the interests of the District.
I’m therefore pleased to announce this evening that we are in the final stages of the acquisition of a large development site on the edge of Stamford that iscurrently occupied by Cummins.
This purchase will enable a mixed-use site, including a Digital Campus with business accommodation for new and growing businesses.
Cummins has been a major employer in Stamford for more than 50 years.
I’m pleased that we have been able to work closely with them to ensure that the future of the site on Barnack Road will continue to provide local employment opportunities.
I also welcome the fact that Cummins will continue to have a presence in Stamford on Ryall Road, where they are investing in their R&D facilities.
Working in partnership with Burghley, we intend to bring forward a combined mixed-use development of site of over 30 acres.
This will ensure that the area provides a fitting gateway into Stamford and of course is in keeping with the magnificence of Burghley House.
Our economic success is dependant on striking the right balance between opportunities for employment and for living.
If we get that balance right and we have a vibrant, sustainable community.
Get it wrong and there is a danger of creating wealthy but ultimately sterile dormitory towns.
To demonstrate our ambition and commitment to attract investment into our area, we will be attending MIPIM UK in London next week.
MIPIM is the leading national property expo for the movers and shakers in the development and investment world.
In a few moments I will be delighted to show you the promotional film we have commissioned for the exhibition….
So, having set out our ambitions twelve months ago, this year has been much more about the ‘hard yards’ of delivery.
As Kelham explained, our focus internally has been transformation; about aligning strategy and structure with our goals and making sure we have the right people – the best people - in place to make it happen.
We have set out on a bold journey.
There is much yet to do, but this is about long-term investment to secure the future prospects of our district.
This is a marathon. It is not a sprint.
But I am confident that we are starting to provide that all-important ingredient that matters so much in economic growth - confidence.
So, this year as last, I will leave you with a clear commitment to support you and grow our economy.
This year as last, I pledge my commitment to not simply talking about a successful economy, but taking the actions to realise it.
However, this year, unlike last, I’m proud to share with you, the significant progress we have made in just 12 months.
But I’m not one for resting on past achievements.
I continue to be driven by the same spirit of ambition as I had twelve months ago.
With your support, together, we will continue our pursuit of opportunity.
And in doing so we will improve the prospects of our district;
and our businesses.