10th May 2017

Harrogate's quiet revolution - an economic blueprint for our town

Whether in the crowds that lined the streets of Harrogate or one of millions of television viewers who tuned in worldwide, anyone who shared in the festival of cycling that was the Tour de Yorkshire will tell you, our town is pretty special. 

But cut away from the high level helicopter shots and green spaces which so wonderfully showcased our area and you’ll find a quiet revolution is going on in the Harrogate district. A revolution which comes in the shape of Harrogate Borough Council’s Economic Growth Strategy

Strategy for future growth

Councils don’t often get praise – but Harrogate’s draft business strategy, for the first time, we think – went beyond the stereotypical view of our town. Built on sure foundations as a leading Spa resort, Harrogate has, and will continue to have, strength in hospitality and tourism, alongside conference business which is also important.

Harrogate’s draft business strategy goes beyond the stereotypical view of our town

The Council’s Economic Growth Strategy is looking to subtly realign this focus as part of long term growth plans. The key areas for growth have been highlighted as Creative and Digital; Financial and Professional Services; Scientific Research and Development; and Logistics. Following discussions at council level and within a forum of local business leaders, a group I am proud to serve on, we have put the consultation to the wider community and are currently in the process of reviewing the results – watch this space…

Sustainable employment

One of the key issues raised is that of sustainable employment. At present, with a reliance on service sector jobs, Harrogate has the lowest workplace wages in the region and is ranked 355 of the 378 local authorities nationally. With an average housing cost £100,000 above the regional average, it’s easy to see that for many, that’s not a sustainable model.

As one councillor succinctly put it – each morning we see 20,000 hatchbacks come in to the town, while 20,000 Range Rovers leave for work. This may be an oversimplification, but at its heart there is a truth – while Harrogate attracts a broad range of professionals to homes on picturesque streets with first rate schools, social and leisure amenities, there are too few appropriate employment opportunities to keep them in the town between nine and five.

If Harrogate is to grow, it must address this and, combined with a commitment to the strong leisure sector, develop new industries and solutions for ‘fair and decent’ work to support sustainable development.   

A ‘good work’ economy

It’s important to highlight that, though our area must find its own solutions, the question of ‘good work’ isn’t an exclusively local issue. An independent review into modern work, headed by the Social Integration Commission’s Matthew Taylor is set to be released in the summer, though the key themes are already known. 

Taylor has highlighted that “Bad work is all too common [raising the call that] we need, therefore, to talk about the quality of work, and not just quantity” – a pertinent consideration when looking at the industries which we are looking to develop.  

This will have not just economic but social implications when we examine this through the lens of our local plan. As Taylor explains, “for most of us, work is one of the most important things in our life,” so it should therefore be “good for us and good for society”.

a commitment to sustainable, rewarding employment is a feature of many of the fantastic businesses in the district

There may be work to do, but it’s clear that a commitment to sustainable, rewarding employment is a feature of many of the fantastic businesses in the district and supporting them to flourish over the past 30 years has been a personal privilege.  

No more is this more evident than at the recent Harrogate Business Awards, in which Berwins’ sponsored category – Best Employer – saw the shortlisted companies consist of recruiters, vets, scientists and a horticultural supplier.

Across this and other categories, it is always astonishing to see not just the range but the diversity of businesses in our region – some smaller hidden gems, some serious players with large workforces, bringing prosperity and skills to Harrogate. With outstanding organisations, we can grow as a town and it’s these which must sit at the heart of our shared future.

A vibrant hub

Harrogate is a great place to live, work and do business and there is a real vibrancy to the town and community.

This is evident in the recent Yorkshire Business Market – an event Berwins is always proud to be involved with – which draws businesses and individuals from across the area to showcase, network and do business.

It’s also clear from the fantastic Harrogate Digital movement. Relaunched by Harrogate Council – them again – in conjunction with Leeds City Region LEP at the latter end of 2016. This has become a real centre for our area’s creative and digital agenda and highlights how strong Harrogate is in this field.

Our district is a great place to live, work and do business and there is a real vibrancy to the town and community.

The hidden gems are really there, and they are substantial and growing fast. The recognition of these in the Economic Growth Strategy is timely and welcome, highlighting as it does that Harrogate remains a very special business community with a future which is bright and full of opportunities. This plan to grow shows a blueprint for commercial success.  

Paul Berwin is a commercial and digital law specialist and founder of Harrogate based Berwins Solicitors. He is chair of Harrogate Digital and sits as a forum member within Harrogate Borough Council’s Economic Growth Strategy. 

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