Cllr Bridget Smith writes…..Lib Dems are the party of Business

It became apparent some weeks ago that South Cambridgeshire could not rely on the Mayor and the Combined Authority to lead on Business Recovery.  The reason being that South Cambridgeshire is a very rural district albeit wrapping completely around Cambridge City, with an extremely diverse business sector which includes not only the Cambridge Science Park and the world renown Bio Medical campus at Addenbrookes Hospital with the likes of Astra Zeneca but also the Wellcome and Sangar Institutes at Hinxton and the soon to be Huawei headquarters at Sawston. Every bit as important to us is farming, manufacturing, the service industries, tourism and the many thousands of SMEs, sole traders and home workers.  The role of the CA is obviously high level and strategically focused on the whole of the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area and cannot be refined or nuanced enough to support the village based micro economies which ensures that the 103 villages and 1 new town are truly self-sufficient and sustainable.

When we took control of the council 2 years ago we immediately established Economic Development as one of our top 4 priorities and were in the process of recruiting a Business Support Team when CV struck – which has turned out to be fortuitous. Our original plan was to focus on inward investment, exploiting the potential of our enterprise zones and fulling the SME business support gap left when Business Link ceased to operate. This team will now obviously be focusing on business recovery.

I also recently established the role of Member Champion for Business which Cllr Peter McDonald has excelled at. Peter created a Business Recovery Strategy in the first couple of weeks of the crisis which has been critical for us as the situation has developed.

Economic growth has been more than healthy for the Greater Cambridge area (South Cambs and Cambridge City) and it is currently the government’s focus for their initial investment in the OxCam Arc with the recent announcement of the E-W rail link and the budget plans for 4 new DevCos in and just to the west of the district.

There is no doubt that healthy as our economy is, it is inextricably linked to that of Cambridge City which is led by Lewis Herbert (Labour).  Lewis readily acknowledges that we were well ahead of City in Economic Development largely because economic growth ‘just happened’ in Cambridge and did not need any help. However, the CV19 crisis has meant that we have agreed to work collaborative together on  a business recovery plan along with the Combined Authority and all of business network organisations including the Chamber of Commerce and FSB.

The job of business recovery has become too big for just myself and Peter  and so we now have a team of 4 of us sharing the considerable workload.

We have established the council as a webbed based ‘one stop shop’ for information for businesses with a newsletter being sent out to many hundreds of emails every 4 – 5 days as new guidelines are announced.

Last week I ran a Live Business Forum together with Lewis where we were joined by our lead officer and the heads of 7 of our local business networks including the CA.  The purpose was for us to gain intelligence about what the gaps in provision and information were for local business so that either we or our partners could address those gaps. We were joined by about 50 businesses and 2 MPs all of whom actively participated through questions.

Obviously there are many thousands of businesses in the Greater Cambridge area who we did not reach in this way but the very fact that we ran such an event did enormous reputational good to us both in the eyes of the business networks, the MPs and our communities.  We are now gathering feedback to help us plan whether we do the same thing again, whether we target specific business sectors or do something completely different.

* Cllr Bridget Smith is the Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire Council.

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  • Richard Underhill 16th May '20 - 2:05pm

    The government had a programme of building hospitals. The chief architect had negotiated substantial funding. A spin-off business from the university was doing an excellent job, while another firm of computer consultants were doing whatever they could to persuade a budget-holder in the architects’ department that the latest changes in the computer programs should be paid for from the £500,000 sub-budget.
    There was a general election and budget cuts came from capital intensive programs when Harold Wilson be came PM again. What would he do with HS2?

  • Call me suspicious (problems with China) or a cynic but Huawei in the ‘nerve centre ‘ of tech is a bit ‘iffie’? Would it not be a good idea to transfer the HQ to the North ,say, Newcastle to encourage job growth, tech to develop in the North to start sorting out the ‘North South’ divide?

  • Michael Sammon 16th May '20 - 9:06pm

    What a refreshing read. Well done Bridget and South Cambridgeshire Council.

  • Stephen Hesketh 17th May '20 - 9:29am

    Good initiative – Liberalism in action.
    I must admit however to being very uneasy about headlines and pronouncements calling ourselves “the party of Business”. We are no more the party of business than we are the party of ‘the state’, ‘trade unionism’, ‘patriotism’ etc.
    We are the party of Liberalism; of people and their widest interests. Businesses (especially SME’s) have a vital role to play in building a green, sustainable, equal and Liberal society.
    We should not, through headlines, appear to be a party of ‘business as usual’.

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