It’s time to get up and grow

James Durie

James Durie

As the mood of business becomes more optimistic, James Durie Executive Director for Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative at Business West maps out how Bristol and the surrounding region can share in the growth that everyone is predicting for 2014.

It’s been a tough five years, and no one is expecting more than a steady climb upwards in 2014.

But – tellingly – our recent regional survey of economic sentiment recorded 79% of the 640 respondents feeling “confident”: a 20% hike on the previous quarter, and considerably higher than this time last year.

We seem to have moved from “cautiously optimistic” over to “optimistic” on the virtual swingometer!

2013 cup half full

One year ago, I saw 2013 being a “cup half full” year, suggesting that we were in a great position to take advantage of any growth potential in the economy.

That remains true, and key elements such as the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone and the five Enterprise Areas are starting to kick in.

This gives us a clear employment land offer across the strategic locations as well as a degree of control over our own destiny in terms of allocating new business rate tax income from those areas.

As a Smart City we will of course be European Green Capital 2015.

This is not just a great chance to raise our international profile, attract more investment and jobs but show how, through sustainability, we can work across health, wealth and prosperity for all in our city and demonstrate leadership on the green agenda.

Speculative office developments

There are also hugely optimistic indicators such as the first big speculative office developments for several years; the £7.2bn electrification of the Bristol to London line has moved closer together, as has the city region’s new Bus Metro system… and the much needed link road.

Bristol Temple Meads Station will be refurbished which will give us a main arrival point and now Growth Hub befitting a leading 21st century European city region.

Even the Arena is edging closer.

Good news but one or two caveats

So, plenty of good news… but I do think one or two caveats are in order.

Firstly, five of the pillars enabling economic growth are land, infrastructure, skills, access to funding and business support.

The first two are being addressed. However there is a more we should be able to offer with the right support.

Already we are being told by some employers that skills shortages are starting to emerge, while access to funding certainly continues to be an issue for many small companies.

More needs to be done.

Failing to provide adequate housing

Equally, we are still failing to provide enough housing to really meet the needs of our growing population.

That could prove a severe drag on growth in the next decade.

And to compete in a global marketplace for inward investment, and at a time of diminishing public finances, we have to put differences aside and promote ourselves as a united, connected, supportive city region.

The same is true if we are to persuade Government that we can make maximum use of the various pots of money available to support regional growth.