Agenda item

Economic and Skills Development

To receive an update from David Cook (Partnership Chairman), Councillor Brunel-Walker (Executive Member for Economic Development and Regeneration) and Victor Nicholls (Assistant Chief Executive), in respect of the work of the Economic and Skills Development Partnership.


The Commission received an update from David Cook, Economic and Skills Development Partnership (ESDP) Chairman and Victor Nicholls, Assistant Chief Executive, in respect of the work of the ESDP.

David congratulated Bracknell Forest for being number three in the Country for Technology Employment behind Manchester and Reading and praised Bracknell Forest Council for bringing new ideas on board and being a delight to work with.

David informed the Commission that he had been the Chairman of the ESDP for six years and  that membership of the ESDP had become much stronger with more businesses represented and involved. These included Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), 3M, Hitachi, The Knowledge Academy and Simon Fryer (who was a member of the Sub Committee). The ESDP also had a very strong working relationship with the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and had worked very closely with Campbell Christie since he had become the director in January 2016. Bracknell Forest was the only Borough out of the six in Berkshire that had a Business Community Forum. The LEP were trying to encourage the other Authorities in Berkshire to follow suit. The ESDP also had a strong dialogue and a similar agenda with Bracknell Forest Council which enabled work to not be duplicated. He envisaged the ESDP becoming more business-led, with the Council as a partner organisation.


David updated the Commission on some of the key developments within the Borough.


There had been concerns raised by companies in the Borough about the reduction of resources and the lack of available skills and talent within the area to match the businesses needs, especially in regards to the “young bright” executives and future leaders. Significant skill gaps had been identified predominantly in the ICT, life science and construction sectors. Careers events and the Elevate programme had been successfully working closely with schools, in particular 6th Forms, to introduce students to business techniques, improve CV writing and develop skills to enable students to “stand out from the crowd”.


There was a Business Improvement District (BID) event planned for November 2016 which would be aimed at all businesses within the western and southern industrial areas to generate interest and discuss the concept of a BID. The former director of Reds had been brought on board to divulge his expertise and knowledge in order to develop the project and BID infrastructure.


The Borough had achieved 96.2% of premises covered with superfast broadband.                       


The Town Centre regeneration was a very important asset for businesses within Bracknell as it would enable socialising and networking opportunities outside of the workplace which had been identified currently as a missing link within Bracknell Town Centre.


Over the past eighteen months and going forward, the ESDP would be raising their concerns with housing developers about the lack of affordable housing for professionals to purchase within the Borough. This was becoming increasingly difficult. As many companies had found that the lack of affordable housing was an important factor that many professionals were taking into consideration when applying for jobs.


In response to Members’ questions the following points were made:



  • A clear Careers Strategy and Structure needed to be put into place at schools to help students with continuity after working with a Careers Advisor. Often the school will need to have drive and an enthusiastic Head Teacher and governors to connect with local businesses.
  • Schools often don’t like businesses dipping in and out to provide careers advice as this is often detrimental to the students as continuity is not achieved. The preferred option is a Careers Advisor as a constant business contact.
  • University drop out rates were still high and Apprenticeships were better for offering some students a different style of learning. The 2.5% Government Levy on organisations with wages bills over £3 million annually meant that more money would be put in to Apprenticeships going forward.
  • There were currently fourteen people allocated from the ESDP to work within local Schools. On Friday 25 November there was a recruitment session scheduled at Edgbarrow School, which had been driven through the LEP.
  • Entrepreneurship had been the second most asked question at recent career events with many students wanting to know how they could set up their own business, access finance and premises. The ESDP were looking at getting small business owners and young entrepreneurs to talk to the students about the positives and difficulties that can be encountered when owning your own business.
  • Microbusinesses had the biggest growth in Thames Valley in the last fifteen years.
  • Much of the office spaces within the Town Centre were not suitable for incubation hubs and the council was working closely with property agents to find adequate premises.
  • The EU referendum had brought uncertainty to businesses. The ESDP had written to the Government and local MPs about their concerns and what they wanted to happen moving forward. Many businesses currently had their heads down and major investment in business had not seemed to have happened since the Brexit vote.
  • The ESDP were keeping a close eye on global companies especially those with European headquarters with much seeming to be reliant on whether the Government decided on a soft or hard Brexit. A hard Brexit could see the need for many companies to relocate within Europe to allow free movement of people and the global movement of talent.
  • Trade Movement and tariffs were also an unknown with lots of businesses formulating ‘what if’ scenarios and plans.
  • The Government were also unable to guarantee student finance past 2017/18 for overseas student with many universities reliant upon these fees to heavily support their finances.
  • The ESDPs agenda had changed – six years ago affordable housing would not have been a priority. Over the past 18 months the ESDP had been reaching out to Housing Developers to provide ready built, affordable housing for Young Executives but with no success so far. The proposed Government Policy of Starter Homes many prove to be a way out of the current problem.
  • The partnership measured success on how many companies were still located within Bracknell Forest. If companies had moved out of the area they were asked why. For example BMW had moved out due to expansion requirements and Honda had moved to the area as the rail infrastructure in and out of Waterloo suited their needs.
  • The ESDP defined a Young Executive as someone who was a university graduate on a graduate scheme for fast track career progression. They would be aged 24/25 and be a potential highflyer.
  • The key sectors that needed more encouragement within the Borough were Digital Space, Transportation, Hospitality, Infrastructure Support, Retail and Health and Social Services.
  • Transportation infrastructure issues in and out of the Borough hadn’t been raised by local businesses. However, due to increased congestion because of new housing developments as well as the Town Centre regeneration, travel time around the town had increased.


The Chairman thanked David for his interesting report which was both helpful and refreshing and would hopefully give the Authority ideas to think outside of the silos. The Commission would like to meet David again at a future date.


Victor Nicholls also thanked David for his leadership of the ESDP and emphasised that Bracknell Forest benefitted from being the only Berkshire Authority  with a business partnership.



Supporting documents: