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Plymouth, the UK cities report and confidence

25 January 2011 No Comment

The Cities Outlook 2011 report tracks the changes in various economic indicators for cities across the UK. As a Plymouth based firm, we’re interested and heavily invested in the city and its future. And that makes for some difficult reading in this survey.

The Plymouth numbers are shown here and the one that strikes me (as an accountant) as being the most significant for the future of the city is the figure for “business stock per 10,000 population” – a measure of the number of businesses in the city. On this measure Plymouth is ranked 61 out of 64 UK cities with 202.6 businesses per 10,000 people against a UK average of 334.7 per 10,000 people. That’s seriously low! There’s a history for VAT registrations (a guide to new business start-ups) here which shows Plymouth in the bottom 10 “business creating cities” ┬áup to 2007. It doesn’t appear that there has been much improvement since.

So why is this? This article reviews some of the historical reasons and compares Plymouth with other previously heavily industrialised cities such as Newcastle and Liverpool. It also goes on to talk about the dependence that Plymouth (and other cities) have had on the public sector including healthcare, education and in our case, the Navy.

In the most serious public spending squeeze for years, cities like Plymouth which have relied historically (and I mean up to the last couple of years) on public sector job creation to soak up working age population will be most adversely affected. So we start from a low base as a business creating city and enter a phase where David Cameron has commented that “We are going to get out of this recession by trading our way out, by business deciding to employ people to create wealth, to go after new markets, to export”. Peter Mandelson said “First and foremost we need to foster a new climate for enterprise in Britain. The recovery cannot be driven by consumer debt or public spending. It will be driven by private sector investment and private enterprise.” It makes you wonder what they were doing during their time in government if they are suggesting a change in business climate as the “first and foremost” task of government!

It’s clear that we’re not going to get any real help from government – either “won’t or can’t” is not going to change anything here. What we suffer from is historical reliance and a need to change culture, and that doesn’t happen overnight. There has been a change in the city over the last twenty years but it takes time. It comes from attitude, desire and ambition. The drive and motivation of the few that helps to inspire the weaker amongst us to jump on their band-wagon and help. And more than anything it comes from the young, the lack of concern for barriers and the blind optimism that we all lose so soon.

As a city we need to celebrate the ambitious, encourage the risk takers while helping to reduce their exposure, expound on the success stories and reach into the schools with them to help inspire the next generation. What we mustn’t do is drag down business with negative attitudes, snipe jealously at the successful or ambitious or constantly bemoan the ways of the world. What creates wealth ultimately starts with confidence – and that needs us all to want success and believe that we can create it in the city.


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