One clear message came through loud and clear from the GFirst LEP Annual Review 2022 – that Gloucestershire must continue to look to the future, and to the younger generation in particular, if it is to continue to thrive.
In a choice of venue that wowed attendees, members of the county’s business community and partners of the local enterprise partnership gathered on board Cotswold Airport’s Boeing 747 party plane to hear the LEP sum up its achievements for the year and re-state its vision.
Chief executive of GFirst LEP, David Owen, told the story of the last year with the help of video input from business leaders, including James Fyrne, co-founder of SoGlos – covering the difficulties of the pandemic, how that had changed the LEP’s role and focus, through to its major achievements.
Those big successes included the delivery of key infrastructure projects such as Cirencester College’s Digital Skills Academy, the Forest of Dean AccXel construction school, the West Cheltenham Transport Plan and Gloucestershire College’s Hub8 networking space – all driven by investment won by the business group.
And, in a question-and-answer session chaired by LEP vice chairman, Ian Mean, one theme recurred – the importance of creating opportunity for young people, to ensure talent remained here in the county to help it remain a vibrant place to live and work.
Neill Ricketts, one of the outgoing, long-standing LEP board members and the founder of Versarien, said: ‘The local enterprise partnership remains about developing the very best county we can for our kids. Business is part of the solution to doing that.
‘Creating great educational pathways is vitally important. It is about creating a landscape that encourages our young people to stay and work, to help them realise the many opportunities we have here and what they can achieve here.’
A skilled workforce, he said, would enable growth and only encourage further investment from businesses into Gloucestershire.
Tyler Attwood, GFirst LEP’s youngest board member and the founder of Your Next Move CIC, said: ‘We need to ensure the county is a magnet for young people and that is has opportunities for them, so even if they go away they carry the county with them, are proud of it, tell people where they have come from – and feel it is a place to come back to.
‘So much good is being done already to encourage this, but the important voices of young people need to be heard and the conversations need to be ongoing.’
In a fitting reminder that the pandemic continues to have an impact, new chairwoman Ruth Dooley was forced to deliver a video address instead of attending after contracting Covid-19.
Owen said the LEP had found new purpose through the pandemic, not least transforming its Growth Hub networks into an emergency services to support businesses and helping create the likes of Visit Gloucestershire to champion the county’s tourism sector, led by Steve Gardner-Collins.
Owen said: ‘None of what we have achieved is down to us. It is down to the great relationships with businesses and our partners and we are hugely grateful for those relationships.
‘We would encourage everyone to continue to be involved, to challenge us, to put us on the map, to bring investment here and to help transform Gloucestershire of the better.’