One of the aspects of my role that is both challenging and interesting is economic development within the District. This involves taking a long term and strategic view. The downside is that people do not see immediate benefits. Too many people, however, believe that economic growth just happens and that we can remain prosperous without working hard at it. Ensuring that the District remains prosperous takes a great deal of effort. If a point was reached where the District was desperate for investment in growth, it would be too late. Recovering from a weakened position is never easy; it is far better to work to maintain growth from a position of strength.
As a District we have many advantages, not least of which are the skills and capabilities of our people. As it is also a very pleasant place to live, the District is a very attractive place to which professional people want to move. We also have a lot of space. After all, Stratford on Avon District is 48% of the area of Warwickshire. From my perspective, we need to capitalise on those advantages. This means a lot of networking based around our membership of Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnerships (CWLEP) and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). We did have a meeting with the CEO of the WMCA Growth Company recently during which he observed that he had not fully appreciated the scale of the opportunities in Stratford on Avon District. It is vital to ensure we are clearly on the radar of these organisations.
These activities are, I feel, extremely important for our future. Aspects of the role as an effective Leader of the Council are, however, somewhat removed from public view. This is not deliberate; it’s just the way it is.
It is also why, as a Council, we are investing time and effort in the World Shakespeare Centre project. This will, I hope, be a massive project that will deliver benefits towards the end of this decade. In the short term, assuming we are successful, it will send a signal that there is serious investment in the future of both the town of Stratford upon Avon and of the wider District as a whole. This may well encourage other businesses to invest now for future benefits. This initiative may also attract retailers and hotels to the town. Both are needed if the High Street generally is to be regenerated.
I continue to be astounded by the number of residents who appear to want “something to be done” about the High Street yet appear unable to “join up the dots” when we do try to do something.
Of course, it is not only the tourist industry into which the Council is seeking to encourage investment, important though that is. I am very excited by the potential of the Wellesbourne Campus of the University of Warwick. As part of my role as Leader of the Council, I am expected to meet with potential investors. What has struck me as fascinating is how pleased they are to see the Leader of the Council at meetings. I keep pushing the message that the District is open for business and that we will do whatever we can to help them. Obviously, our support will be within the rules and frameworks within which we have to operate. Nevertheless, this proactive attitude and the personal contact is important in attracting investment into South Warwickshire. It is, however, fairly time consuming.
I expect that some of the time and effort that I along with a number of others have been expending in recent months will begin to bear fruit over the next few months.
Now for a very different topic; climate change has been very much in the news lately, notably the extreme weather in Canada and the western USA, and, more recently still in Germany I will reiterate what I have said many times, I think that the impacts of climate change will be far greater and come far faster than most people imagine. We will not be able to stop some very substantial impacts, although we may still be able to contribute to the avoidance of a complete disaster. As a nation we are, nevertheless, going to have to adapt to a very different climate and more extreme weather events. Again, we are taking a strategic and long term view. We have engaged with the Meteorological Office to understand the implications of a 3 degree and 4 degree overall increase in temperature for us in South Warwickshire. The Council can then make informed and pragmatic decisions on what it can do to cope with climate change as it directly affects us all.
This is all part of our overall approach to be strategic, to base our actions on the best evidence available and to face issues head on. I say that expecting that the results of the Meteorological Office’s work will not make comfortable reading. We have a responsibility, I believe, to provide stewardship for our District and to our residents, not only in the here and now but also into the future.
One of the common issues in both themes in this Column is the need to think strategically, take a longer term perspective and make decisions and take actions that will bear fruit in the future. Of course, what everyone appears to want is action now and results immediately? Unfortunately this is not always feasible, indeed, on the big issues, seldom possible.
Tackling the big issues of today, which will impact heavily on tomorrow, requires a perspective, and, dare I say it, a sense of maturity that appears too often lacking.
Meanwhile, we will continue to take a strategic view and endeavour to do the best we can for our District balancing the immediate with the longer term. This appears to me to be responsible stewardship.
Tony Jefferson July 2021