Wed, 10 Apr 2019
DEVELOPING a university presence and making West Berkshire the best place to start and grow a business are some of the district council’s key aims for the next 17 years.
West Berkshire Council last week unveiled its new economic strategy, which highlights a number of objectives it wants to achieve between now and 2036.
Creating prosperous communities across West Berkshire, future-proofing infrastructure and linking rural and urban areas through better use of technology are just some of them.
The council has also committed to making ‘green’ choices and “make it easier for our businesses to do the same”.
Sharing data, “which would make the area more attractive for new and existing businesses” and expanding business rate relief are two other objectives.
The importance of building a ‘West Berkshire brand’ by promoting the district as a place that offers the best of both worlds – ie protected natural environment and good access to Reading/London – is highlighted
The strategy states: “The report acknowledges West Berkshire has many assets.
“What it does not have, however, is a clear brand identity that is recognisable to those.”
Promoting West Berkshire as an “incubator district” by converting unused retail space into shared working space and creating an environment that helps start-ups and small businesses to grow is high on the list of priorities.
This includes purpose-built incubator space at Newbury railway station as part of the Market Street development.
Another aim is to empower everyone to enter the workplace – including older workers, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with mental health issues or learning difficulties.
As part of this, the council will conduct a review into nursery provision across the district to ensure that the need for childcare is not a barrier to parents wishing to return to work.
The council will also encourage the uptake of apprenticeships by partnering with major local employers to create a Community Apprenticeship Levy Fund.
The aim is to ensure that more Apprenticeship Levy funds raised locally are spent locally,
The importance of attracting and retaining young people is also emphasised.
The strategy states: “The perceived weakness of our leisure offering has been anecdotally expressed as a barrier to younger demographics choosing West Berkshire as a place to live, work and learn.
“To reflect the importance of this in retaining young people, contributing to positive wellbeing and making West Berkshire a great place to live, we will form a forum through which arts, culture and leisure organisations can contribute to community-led evidence-based new culture leisure strategies.”
The strategy also highlights a number of challenges facing the district over the next 17 years.
This includes managing the projected “demographic shift”, which suggests that there will only be two working age people for every retired person instead of four as there are now.
The council said: “This statistic is startling and is one that is likely to shape much of what we do in the coming years.”
Housing affordability, an ageing population, and a social mobility ‘gap’ – which means those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be in work – were other challenges highlighted.
The strategy shows the population of West Berkshire to be 157,900 – 97,600 of whom are of working age.
In total, 85.3 per cent of the population aged 16 to 64 are “economically active” and the district is now home to almost 9,000 businesses.
West Berkshire Council’s previous Economic Development Strategy came to an end in 2018. The new strategy, which was approved last week, runs from 2019 to 2036.
Newbury West Berkshire, a not-for-profit economic development company being set up by local businesses and organisations, will work alongside the council to help deliver the aims of the strategy.