Agenda and draft minutes

Economic and Skills Development Partnership - Tuesday, 14 July 2020 9.00 am

Venue: Online - Microsoft Teams

Contact: Lizzie Rich  01344 352253

Items
No. Item

25.

Minutes and actions from previous meeting pdf icon PDF 161 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed as a correct record, subject to Peter Smith’s attendance being noted.

 

Arising from the minutes, it was noted that the photos from the most recent photographic competition were on display at South Hill Park.

26.

Bracknell Forest Council 2020 Business Surveys

Minutes:

Anneken Priesack advised that two Bracknell Forest business surveys had been conducted; one on infrastructure and one on employment and skills. The surveys were repeats of those conducted in 2015. The initial infrastructure survey report had been shared with Partners, and further in-depth analysis would be undertaken and shared again. Some questions on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses had been included in the employment and skills survey, and partners were interested to see the outcome of these questions.

 

The results from the infrastructure survey had been generally positive, with some comments around parking and congestion. The town centre had been seen as a positive change and walking and cycling routes had improved. The lack of electrical charging points was a key issue in the responses. 

 

Arising from discussion, the following points were noted:

·        The process of dividing bigger office buildings into smaller units was a growing trend, as it was anticipated that as working from home increased, businesses would be downsizing their office spaces.

·        An online only survey to understand the impact of Covid-19 on businesses was also being developed by BFC and would be shared as widely as possible.

·        The Council were assessing whether the mix of office space was right, and whether more co-working space would be valuable in the borough. The employment element of the local plan would remain the same total floorspace, but the breakdown of the space was not fixed.

·        Partners discussed the various approaches to working from home in their businesses. It was suspected that office space would be used more economically in future.

27.

Bracknell BID

Minutes:

Ian Ferguson, Partnership for Better Business and Rob Reading, Bracknell BID Manager attended the meeting to update on the Bracknell BID.

 

Partnership for Better Business had been operating for 15 years across the UK, supporting many of the 300 or so existing BIDs nationally. While the majority of BIDs were in town and city centres, a quarter were in business areas.

 

In Bracknell, the BID was formed of a number of businesses of different sizes across the Southern and Western Business Area, the boundary of which was defined in the Local Plan.

 

In a survey of participating Bracknell BID businesses, the following answers were of note:

·        93% of businesses had said that good internet was very important to them, and there were pockets of poor-performing broadband in some areas of the BID.

·        92% said that traffic infrastructure and congestion were key issues

·        84% said that amenities and facilities for employees were important, for example the lack of nearby cafes for lunch.

·        65% of businesses said that a single point of contact for the district would be helpful

 

In order to unite the two geographical areas to encourage investment, two key priorities had been established:

 

Objective 1: Infrastructure aimed to develop and maintain walking routes, cycle routes public transport and electrical charging points.

 

Objective 2: Business growth and investment would focus on security and the prevention of crime through intelligence sharing, and activity to support recruitment and retention.

 

It was also noted that the area would be reprofiled and signage amended to refer to the Business Area rather than Industrial Area.

 

The BID Budget was based on a 1.5% levy on all businesses in the district above a certain rateable value, which would generate around £600k per year. The budget would be used to ease congestion and attract businesses to the area.

 

The BID had formally begun on 1 April 2020, and the COVID-19 lockdown had made it difficult to establish the business initially. The first tranche of levy money had recently been collected by the Local Authority, as there had been no easement of payments to the BID levy.  The BID had appointed its first manager, Rob Reading, in June.

 

A BID website was in development and would be complete by the end of July 2020. Thames Valley Police had dedicated 2 PCSOs to the area, and a Police base would be established. Inter-trading opportunities were starting to be explored.

 

In response to questions, the following points were noted:

·        The BID levy was unaffected by Government reductions during COVID-19 lockdown, and remained a bill in its own right, however the Business Rates team at the Council had suspended recovery action during COVID-19. It was suspected that some businesses did not realise that the payment was statutory.

·        It was noted that the BID could benefit from developing the green infrastructure in the business area.

·        The business plan had been adopted by ballot last year, and the BID Directors provided a steer on the plan from their monthly meetings.

·        It was noted that while the plan and framework were in place, there was flexibility within the plan to address any issues arising.

·        The Partnership for Better Business model involved using the expertise of businesses in the area and it was confirmed that this approach was being taken in Bracknell

28.

Business Recovery discussion

·        Andrew Hunter, Bracknell Forest Council – Business Recovery in Bracknell Forest

·        Natasha Sedgwick, Thames Valley Business Growth Hub – Growth Hub and LEP support for businesses

·        Chris Mansfield, Bracknell Forest Council – Town Centre Recovery

Minutes:

Natasha Sedgwick presented the work of the Thames Valley Business Growth Hub.

 

The Business Growth Hub was an impartial and fully funded support for businesses in Berkshire, funded by the LEP and the EU. The team had expanded during lockdown to meet the needs of businesses during the period.

 

The Growth Hub offered a range of support from 1:1 support, online marketplaces to virtual masterclass webinars.

 

The Growth Hub had developed a COVID resource portal on their website which had received 9400 hits since its launch in April. There was also a COVID-19 update bulletin for businesses to disseminate regular updates and local and national guidance. Webinars were being run for the hardest hit sectors, such as hospitality and leisure, and a new Recovery and Growth programme had been established to provide 12 hours of support from a business advisor to businesses recovering from lockdown.

 

The Growth Hub model had been established in 2014, and there was a Hub in each county. In Berkshire, the Hub worked with all businesses from entrepreneurs and start-ups to scale up businesses. Businesses could refer themselves or be referred to the Hub for support.

 

In Bracknell, there was little awareness of the Hub amongst the business community so Partners were asked to circulate Hub details and promote through their social media and newsletters.

 

In response to questions, the following points were noted:

·        Information around the Government’s Kick Start programme had been delayed.

·        Enquiries to the Hub during lockdown had been mainly around cashflow management, accessing funding, and the Government’s furlough scheme.

·        A Business Growth Mapper tool was available through the Hub, which identified areas for development

·        Natasha agreed to meet with Rob Reading to discuss how SMEs in the BID area could be supported.

·        Partners requested the contact details for the Hub. Website: www.berkshirebusinesshub.co.uk, Phone: 01344 388 005 email: info@berkshirebusinesshub.co.uk

 

 

Chris Mansfield updated Partners on the town centre reopening plans.

 

The Lexicon had followed a four-phase approach to lockdown; lockdown, containment, reopening and rebuilding.

 

During the lockdown phase, retail and hospitality units had closed, the town centre car parks were made free, businesses were putting staff on furlough, and the Council were providing financial support schemes to businesses. The Council had been supporting businesses in the Lexicon, but also businesses in smaller business centres out of the town centre. A total of £10,230,000 in grant funding across 788 grants had been distributed through the Council.

 

During the containment phase, the town centre remained closed and was carefully managed. The Council was communicating more directly with retailers to find out their circumstances plans for reopening, and with Thames Valley Police to support the safe use of the town centre.

 

In the reopening phase, on 15 June non-essential retailers had been allowed to reopen, and from 4 July hospitality units had been allowed to trade. Signage and public information had been displayed throughout the Lexicon, and on Crowthorne and Sandhurst high streets. The Public Protection Partnership had assisted businesses with the licensing arrangements and risk assessments for their trading from 4 July, and there had been some leniency around using outdoor public spaces for seating. The Lexicon staff were working with the Council to prepare for the introduction of mandatory face masks in shops.

 

For the rebuilding phase, the Council were working with The Lexicon and the BID to enhance the provision in Bracknell Forest. It was noted that business floorspace requirements were likely to change, and that the Economic Strategy and ESDP Action plan may need to be revisited and adapted.

 

The Reopening Highstreets Safely fund may be drawn upon to support reopening plans.

 

The current focus was on planning to contain any subsequent local outbreaks.

 

In response to questions, the following points were noted:

·        The vast majority of town centre-based staff had been on furlough, with a small number remaining on site premises over lockdown.

·        The onus was on businesses to apply for the grant funding; however, the Council had been contacting businesses to advise of their eligibility.

·        The remit of the Reopening High Streets fund was tight and could only be used for certain things such as additional hand sanitisers. Any use of the fund would need to be signed off by central Government.

29.

Sub-group Updates pdf icon PDF 248 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The subgroup updates were deferred to the next meeting.

30.

Dates of Future Meetings

Minutes:

20 October 2020

31.

Any Other Business

Minutes:

Bob Collis informed the members that the ESDP is planning to hold an Autumn Event, probably in October on a theme of strategic planning and recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak. Whilst it would be good to be able to hold a physical meeting it is very likely that it will be a virtual meeting. Members would be informed of arrangements once plans were in place.