Category Archives: Economic Development

Current policy and practice in sustainable economic development

Sport to Boost Business?

Productivity is one of the great challenges of economic development – how do we raise the level of productivity in individual businesses and across the UK as a whole? Through the work that I have been progressing on a sport and physical activity growth plan with Innovas for Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and Leicestershire and Rutland Sport, I have been thinking about the links between sport and productivity.


I know when I am really busy, taking time out for a 30 minute run, reinvigorates me and allows fresh thinking. I am more productive than I would have been, had I sat at my desk for those 30 minutes.  Even if it is just a walk round the block we often feel better for that fresh air and moderate exercise.

But this is not often talked about as a key factor in business productivity.   Productivity is considered in terms of business culture, management approaches, processes and systems, ICT and the buildings in which we work.  However for most of us, our health drives our productivity and sport and physical activity are key determiners of our physical and mental wellbeing – and how we perform each day.

In speaking to many stakeholders about the sport and physical activity growth plan, there are lots of people out there seeing this relationship and trying to push it forward through engaging businesses and persuading them of the positive impact on the bottom line. It has yet to take hold with businesses more broadly but lots of initiatives are happening.  More measurement of impact is needed to generate greater engagement.

Colleges are seeing sport as key in supporting greater employability – it offers leadership opportunities, work experience and motivation to young people. This is another way of seeing greater productivity in the economy overall – engagement in physical activity  – and skills development.

It feels to me that despite the barriers of there being too many initiatives and engagement is always difficult, looking at sport and physical activity to add value to the economic growth of UK PLC as well as the health of the nation would be a worthwhile step to take.

Nearly 5M sole traders!

There will soon be 5 million sole traders in the UK economy – which makes up 14% of the workforce and our numbers are growing – 30,000 more in the last 3 months.  The attractions of self employment are well known – the flexibility, control of hours, the reduction in bureaucracy, the ability to juggle other interests and responsibilities.  So are the disadvantages well documented – the increased risks, unreliable income, no employee rights, the isolation from the office environment.  There are also fears for businesses using freelancers about whether they should be moved to the payroll – the Autumn statement may comment on this.

What does not seem to get so much attention at national or regional level is the economic contribution of these businesses and how their needs are met.  If we assume most full time sole traders have an average income of less than the VAT threshold and after tax may make £40,000  –  that income creates, on a basic calculator, £182 Billion a year which is a great deal of gross value added to local and national economies!


Much emphasis is placed by strategists on start up business and then looking at those start up businesses to grow and employ some and then more people.  This is of course a vital element of success and productivity which needs to be developed in the UK economy.  We do also know that many self employed people do not wish to employ people but they are interested in growing their income.  The growing income then is spent in the local, regional and national economy so adds value.

The value of self employed people is not just around their economic benefits to UK PLC.  It is also about the contribution to local society and community activities.  From among my immediate contacts, a plethora of community arts, disability and environmental projects are supported by people who balance their work contracts with community energy and commitment.

The debate on business support does not usually focus on the support needs of micro and sole traders but perhaps this should change given the significance and wider social benefits.  Much general information about business development and legal responsibilities are accessible to all but that coaching and support is harder to access especially as the sole trader, by definition, is just an individual with little free resource to spare for networking or workshops.  The benefits of local sessions for and attractive to sole traders should be explored.  I have had the benefit of group coaching sessions – through Bird Table – targeted at female business owners and all involved have been more informed and inspired to grow their income and enterprise as a result.  Lunchtime sessions with wide ranging professionals sharing their current issues can also be a fertile approach for sole traders.

There is much to ponder and little resource to support initiatives but local solutions and social media support both feel like appropriate and useful parts of the package to support this growing element of the economy.


Bluebells to sunflowers – the benefits of business advice

Inspiring Partnerships has a new website! Our focus on enabling sustainable economic growth is sharper and we have three fields of work: research and business case development; project management; and stakeholder engagement. Do have a look at the new site which sets out our business offer and how we work with our clients. Thank you to existing clients for all the testimonials and we are hoping for many more!  The logo has changed from bluebells to sunflowers to represent the vibrancy and growth of the business and the outcomes we wish to deliver.sunflowers

To reach this relaunch has taken months of behind the scenes action and I have not been alone. The purpose of this blog is to celebrate the new website and its potential to grow the business but also to recognise the contributions of others to the process. Without them this website would not be here.

We received great business advice from the local enterprise agency funded by the local authority. They helped me look at the business offer and really clarify what we do best and can develop the best income stream.  Geraldine reviewed the business plan and website and acted as a brilliant critical friend – it is much easier to change something when someone tells you what needs to be done! It is also hard to see the wood for the trees in your own business.

I participated in a female business coaching group locally. The coach, Karen, was supportive and her techniques really  drew out what I needed to focus on and helped me plan a path for my business. The other ladies attending the group asked challenging questions and forced me to think what I really wanted for myself and my business.  We have the next autumn session next week and I’ll be able to go back and say “thanks ladies, I did it!”.

I appointed a wonderful web designer to help me redesign and understand how design and function of the website could help me sell my business online. She also helped me understand what value means in terms of web design. Many of the technically challenged (like me) need honest and trustworthy advice and a ready explanation for things we don’t understand. I got exactly that from Susie.

I recognise now how much business benefits from the advice of other business people who understand our business. I have been privileged to deliver business support but this summer have experienced this for myself.  Constructive criticism is key to making progress and I am pleased to present the result of this dialogue in my new website.  Let me know what you think….







Have SME’s got the wrong attitude about getting online?

BIS have published a report this week on the digital capabilities of SMEs. The report based on research of over 800 businesses suggests that although 98% of SMEs are using email, less than a quarter are making e-sales. 24% of SMES do not have a website and are not listed in an online directory. One of the conclusions is that there are attitudinal barriers to business extending their use of the online media. In particular it is a lack of awareness of the benefits. Continue reading

356,096 business start ups and counting!

356,096 businesses have started up in 2015 using data from 28 July Start Up Britain tracker! The UK is on target to reach 600,000 this year – the fastest ever rate. The net gain of business numbers is rising all the time as more businesses survive for longer.

The South East Midlands has the 5th highest start up rate of all 39 LEPs in England (LEP Dashboard 2015, ERC). So what are the factors in this?

  • Family and background – more businesses are formed by families with business interests.
  • Mobility – areas with a dynamic and growing population see more start ups than elsewhere.  More businesses are formed by migrants to the UK than rates among the local population (ERC, 2015)
  • Location – strong transport links, superfast broadband, international airports all make start ups a stronger proposition
  • Education – areas with stronger educational profiles with more people with higher level qualifications tend to have higher start up rates
  • Attitude – this is the hardest nut to crack but the people who establish a business are typically more aspirational, with greater ambition and a confident attitude to risk – and so much of this is linked to the issues above.key2success

So we are doing well on start up but how big do those businesses grow? Nationally 6% of start up businesses scale up to £1M+ turnover. The South East Midlands is in the middle of the pack among LEPs on this indicator so how do we grow each start up business?   There is lots of research on scale up that has been done in the last year – most impressively is Sherry Coutu’s report to Government in 2014

However we also need to understand that in the South East Midlands, 15% are sole traders and 22% are below the threshold for VAT registration and see a business as a way of generating an income as an alternative to traditional employment. We need to ensure that the start up and growth business support provides for both these economically valuable approaches.