Published: 2nd Nov 2015

simonhansonThere’s no doubting that the interest in the role that cities play in growing the local and national economy has risen in recent years. As one of the core cities in the UK Newcastle has a great chance to be at the vanguard of this.

Collectively we need to create the conditions for growth to help the city and its business base reach its potential. To achieve this will require strong leadership and true collaboration from the private, public and third sector.

Small businesses will be at the heart of helping both the city’s and wider regional economy to grow. In Newcastle there are 7,075 small businesses making up 97% of the total business base in the city. We have been involved in too many conversations where the contribution that small businesses play is ignored or dismissed as being lesser than that of some their bigger counterparts.

The role of small business shouldn’t be underestimated. These 7,075 small businesses contribute approximately £1bn to the local economy and employ the vast majority of the private sector employees in the city.

By working better in partnership we could be doing more. We know that spending with small businesses makes sense to help the local economy grow. Our research has shown that approximately 70p in every £1 spend with a small business stays in the local economy compared to 40p in the £1 with big businesses.

Our members report that they face huge challenges around issues like late payment, the lack of suitably skilled staff and a cooling of confidence in the wider economy.

‘The challenge of austerity also presents an opportunity

to deliver a new human-centred public service delivery model’

At the heart of all this is the need for a clearer vision and stronger leadership in Newcastle. We could be better at paying suppliers in time, understanding the skills needs of local businesses and generating a sense of positivity across the city if we choose to.

This doesn’t mean some Pollyanna vision that bears no resemblance to reality. What it does mean is that as a city we need to get better at celebrating the positives.

To a visitor to the city how do we describe what the vision is for Newcastle?

Too often the narrative and vision has been dominated by the negatives, usually focused on the impact that spending cuts have had and will have.

No one doubts the size of the challenge that reduced public spending will have nor the potential impact. However, we can flip this thinking on its head. These challenges also present an opportunity to deliver a new human-centred public service delivery model which focuses on end-user needs rather than the size of the budget to spend.

Newcastle, especially given its lead on the public service reform work for the Core Cities, has a chance to provide the leadership and vision to deliver a new model. Working in partnership with small businesses and the wider third sector can help make this a reality, but it requires a strong leadership and a clearer vision of where the city is going.

We have a great example of how this can work. The tech and digital sector in Newcastle is recognised as one of the leading clusters anywhere in the UK.

To make the comparison with the wider city there is a clear vision to establish Newcastle as one of the recognised top ten startup cities in the EU. This is driven by strong leadership from organisations like the UK’s leading pre-seed accelerator programme Ignite 100 and the community that is being augmented and built by Campus North. This community is inclusive which accepts anyone that wants to give it a go, find support or help continue the sector to grow.

If we could replicate the work that has been done in tech and digital across the wider city there would be no doubts about what the vision for the city is.

There’s a real opportunity for us to work collectively to establish Newcastle as a leading city, one that delivers economic growth sustainably and is willing to experiment in delivery. Working collectively we can provide the leadership to deliver this vision.

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