Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Lisa and Graham are on the executive committee, and Chamber of Commerce meetings are held at Well House Manor

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Wiltshire Council ask how they can help businesses

Practise at BowoodThere it was again ... "we have undertaken projects already in Salisbury, Trowbridge and Chippenham".

Yesterday evening, I attended an event hosted by Wiltshire Council and the Wiltshire Strategic Economic Partnership; a "consultation" where local businesses were being asked various questions about the support offered by the council to them, and how the council should / can help in the future in the changed political and financial environment. Very posh place ... Bowood Golf Club and Hotel, with drinks all around and food laid on afterwards for anyone who wanted to stay.

Seated at a table of ten people, to which we had been allocated by the hosts, we went round the table and introduced ourselves. Three out of the ten were from Wiltshire Council, and one from another public sector business service provider. Which left 6 business people. Me from Melksham. A chap from Devizes. A lady from Westbury. Another lady from Trowbridge. And a gentleman from near Malmesbury. (the final person was silent for the evening ... name only).

We really need to keep stressing to Wiltshire Council that there are other places in the County than Trowbridge, Chippenham and Salisbury. My understanding is that only 25% of the county's population lives in these three places, with a significantly higher proportion in or with the next ten towns - that's born out by our table's mix - just one out of ten was representing a private sector business in or with a town that Wiltshire Council was proudly supporting; 4 were representing businesses from the less favored parts.





Bowood Golf ClubOne of the big questions of the evening was to ask which "Local Enterprise Partnership" Wiltshire should link with. I had better explain this ...

At the present time, the public sector is seeing huge changes - with the Regional Development Agencies going and a lot of simplification, with other things taking their place. Indeed, one of our pre-consultation speakers was talking of a meeting he had had with 20 participants representing various partnerships, and 14 our of 20 seriously doubted whether they would exist in a year. The new hierarchy of business organizations / government people who can provide support looks (as I read it) like this - written with our Melksham Town training centre as the base:

1. Melksham Town Council.
2. Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council.
3. Mid Wilts Economic Partnership.
4. Wiltshire Strategic Economic Partnership.
5. Local Enterprise Partnership.
6. Central Government.

... and the question is "which LEP do we want to link with" ... it's a choice of Hampshire / Dorset (to link us with the Solent area), Swindon / Gloucestershire, West of England (link with Bath and Bristol), Somerset, or Berkshire ... with the most likely two listed first.

There's something of an issue here ... Wiltshire is a county that's got links with bordering counties on all sides. Wootton Basset would go naturally with Swindon, Bradford-on-Avon with Bath, Westbury with Frome, and Salisbury with Andover, Romsey and Southampton. Marlborough might look to Hungerford and Newbury. So to say "which one should we link to" is absurd - it will provide a synergy for the lucky place(s) for which an appropriate decision is made, and it will leave other places in something of an Economic Partnership backwater. If I were cynical, I would suggest that the reason the businesses were asked is that the county knows there's no good answer, and it's looking to set up someone / some group to whom it can point when things don't go well for Chippenham is they link to Southampton, or for Salisbury if they link to Swindon.

I don't know what the answer will be - the meeting didn't come up with one - but I do know that someone needs to decide by September!





The end of the road at present. 100 yards needed to complete.In all the talk of the evening, the one thing that struck all around in terms of what businesses would like the county to do was to improve accessibility for them. The speed of internet access in some remote areas came up a number of times, and the need to reduce "real" travel times too. There was talk of creating jobs closer to where people live, and for those who do need to travel making the travel better / easier / greener / quicker - especially North to South. It actually seems like a number of threads may be coming together here - at least at our table.

At the end, Councilor Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council summarised. Based on her table, and on what "runners" from around the room had summarised.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all those businesses had - top priority - come down on making Transport top of their list - accessibility (and by that I mean for everyone, not just those with special needs) being top of the list. But I'm afraid that I was less that impressed by Jane's promise, as if in answer to this request, to lean on developers to provide good access as they continued to develop - and I really hope that was just a partial answer from her, good in its own right but to be followed by other enabling actions too, to meet what is clearly becoming a major issue for businesses.





Run more trains. Each will carry more peopleBut where Jane Scott is right - and right on the ball - is to shout out what a great place Wiltshire is to live and work - and to call for us to be ambassadors to tell everyone "this is a great place".

Jane - I agree with you, and I encourage you to prioritize making this great place accessible and integrated. So that if we end up "paired" with Swindon, it's going to be easy and quick to get there from Salisbury and Trowbridge, even without a car. And that if we end up paired with Southampton, it'll be easy to get there from Chippenham as well as from Salisbury.





Illustrations - (top) two pictures of Bowood Golf Club, where the consultation event took place. Then the missing link road from the A350 to Bowerhill - it ends at a fence, and it should run to that building in the background. Then people waiting at Melksham for the train from Westbury (07:02) to Swindon ... miss that one, and the next one doesn't come until 19:35. "Tell us where we can help you, and keep telling us" said Jane Scott. The bottom two pictures are telling you.
(written 2010-07-27, updated 2010-07-30)

 
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