The current Covid-19 situation has stalled the upward curve Portsmouth as a city has seen with the growth in GDP, employment, tourism, inward investment and the number of companies starting or moving to the City to base themselves from. And as we enter both the post Covid and Brexit period for the UK our city has a genuine opportunity to seize the growth baton and run with it into a sustainable and profitable future, writes Stef Nienaltowski, CEO, Shaping Portsmouth.
The City has experienced a significant increase in its business population over the past four years and we have seen an increase in business confidence with the provision of the various business support programmes across the industries which are making a real difference to the sustainability of the individual organisations.
For any city to increase its share of the local, regional, national and international markets it needs a broad range of services and industries and a coordinated strategy to grasp the opportunity when it arises, or it needs to create the demand. With 39% of our businesses in the high-tech/ skill industries we are well placed to take advantage of the new conditions a post-Brexit world will offer.
The City has just under 8,000 active businesses at the end of Q1 2019 and that represents a 13% growth since 2015 and when you look at the one-to-nine employee-size companies, (the traditional start-up territory), then the growth has been even bigger at 25% since 2010.
In order to maintain this growth in the world we will experience as we get to the other side of both Covid and Brexit, we will rely on our collaboration with the City Council and all the major organisations in the City and restart the Economic Development and Regeneration Strategy, (2019 to 2036), which we built last year. While elements of the strategy may change in the short term, the overall objectives over the 17-year period will remain the same.
This plan lays the sustainable foundations for addressing the housing, transport and business economy elements that aims to make our city Britain’s premier waterfront technology and innovation city and a great place to invest, learn, live, work and visit.
The City is now developing a new skills and labour market strategy and 5-year action plan born out of the recent survey where just under 300 companies told us what they had, and what is needed, which demonstrated very clearly what we need to provide.
The two most important areas we need to produce to ensure the continued business growth is engineering and management/Leadership. Our new programme, which is going to be taking digital learning of the STEM subjects into our schools, is planned to inspire the next generation to invest their energies into those subjects so we can start to ‘grow our own’ skill base.
We also plan in partnership with the Chamber, City Council, University of Portsmouth, Solent Growth Hub and the major Banks, to create a coordinated approach to the vital area of business support and growth offerings so that we can help businesses sustain past the critical year-three period and also to enable faster and more profitable growth than they currently are able to manage.
Inward investment is another top priority and we are working with the City Council to launch a new Invest Portsmouth web site and video. Other key elements are an overseas trade, investment and education series of missions to key markets alongside the recent announcements of the Portsmouth Port modernisation and expansion.
Access to affordable finance is another key component in any young businesses cycle and we are partnering with the City Council to launch a new Portsmouth crowdfunding platform to offer a broad and flexible set of offerings that we believe will be of great benefit to those fledgling organisations that need the help the most.
A modern and positive apprenticeship programme is another focus of ours and, as with others I have mentioned, we are working in partnership with the University and City Council to inspire our 11-16 year olds to consider this as a career option while we explain and encourage the businesses to invest in these young adults and give them a valuable start to their working careers.
But this all needs to be managed, coordinated, measured and kept active and dynamic. Markets move, as we know, very quickly and we need to make sure that we predict the needs where we can, manage the changes and create the environment in the City that encourages the new investment needed to maintain our growth and deliver on our aims. Partnerships are the key to making this happen, and we are very well placed in our City to take advantage of the various markets, as over the past few years we have built a strong, broad and productive set of relationships with all the stakeholders and key players in the City.
Shaping Portsmouth has been charged with the responsibility to measure and report on all the key metrics of our 17-year Portsmouth Economic Development and Regeneration Strategy and action plans and the City’s Business Leaders Group will be the recipients of this output every six months and will hold all the City partners and the City Council to account to deliver on the aims.
Portsmouth will come out of this current period ready and able to pick up where it left off in March 2020 and reset its sights on our vision to be the number one city in the UK to invest, live, learn, work and visit.