Gloucestershire is in a ‘brilliant place to prosper’. These are the words of Diane Savory who, as she gears up to chair her last ever GFirst LEP board meeting, has a better picture than most on where the county is economically.
The united spirit onlookers to the county see, and the transformative infrastructure projects pending which gave hope through the pandemic, have the LEP’s fingerprints as catalyst of change all over them.
Ms Savory, OBE, led GFirst LEP as its business plans won £100 million-plus of government cash for the county and helped open an ongoing dialogue between Downing Street and the county.
Bigger cities, she agreed, were facing their own battles with their future identities – not least around what home-working might do to their business areas – but Gloucestershire was on the front foot and driving forward.
It is not just the aforementioned infrastructure projects made possible by the £11.3 million the LEP secured from the Getting Building Fund – the Minster Innovation Exchange, Cheltenham, the AccXel construction school, in the Forest of Dean, the Applied Digital Skills Centre’ at Cirencester College, The Digital Innovation Farm at Hartpury University and Hartpury College or the Cyber Incubation Units at Gloucestershire College.
What excites her is what that will do for the county and the new thinking that is behind each project.
‘People really believe now. It is not just about digital either. It is also about the culture and creative element,’ she said.
The Innovation Exchange will be home to Cheltenham’s Growth Hub – a county-wide networking of business support centres – as well as headquarters of Cheltenham Festivals, of which she is also chair. It is another move designed to create a meeting of minds. ‘It has been quite a journey,’ she said.
Her eyes light up most when she thinks of the future. She famously left one job successfully done before the LEP called – helping take Superdry from scratch to flotation and its record share price.
‘When I told friends I was thinking of helping set up a local enterprise partnership for Gloucestershire they said ‘don’t do it, it will sink your reputation’.
But joining her now to reflect on the legacy of a decade dedicated to the county’s economic success, her own stock is arguably at an all-time high.
By Andrew Merrell