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Local government can help business thrive during Brexit

Image captionCllr Stephen Cowan

By Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council

How does Britain produce the next Steve Jobs or the next Martha Lane Fox? And how do we make sure that as the hottest new industries emerge it is British businesses and British skills that are leading the way?

As our leaders dither and lurch towards a Brexit that will hinder entrepreneurs and damage our economy, and with President Macron making strong overtures to UK-based business, it is local government that must step up.

In other parts of the country we have seen metro mayors leading the charge for their local economies by driving the skills, transport and health and social care agendas. Now local authorities must do the same.

Here in Hammersmith & Fulham we are doing just that. A pro-business council championing inclusive growth, our job is to provide what is necessary for people to take advantage of opportunities. That means raising the levels of skills, ensuring strong infrastructure links and creating a pro-enterprise environment for businesses of all sizes. But it also means designing a borough that people want to work, relax and live in.

Part of this involves standing up for businesses who have felt battered by recent increases in their business rates – set by the government – or for businesses who fear they will lose out when Brexit bites.

So our new industrial strategy will drive the growth of our burgeoning bio-tech, creative and digital sectors as well as supporting smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. This includes creating clusters of innovation in these industries by requiring property developers to set aside part of every new building for affordable, flexible office space. We’re also looking at innovative measures not normally associated with local councils, including a new venture capital trust and business rate cuts for key sectors.

The borough is already home to major global businesses such as GE, Disney and L’Oreal, and we have a strong heritage of successful businesses in media and digital. Our new growth partnership with Imperial College London will seek to boost enterprise as businesses and start-ups work side by side with world-leading academics, translating research into commercial reality.

We hope that this corner of west London will offer an unrivalled challenge – not just to other boroughs, but to the rest of Europe – as the best place to do business.