Local challenges to jobs and growth to be debated at EU level

Employment policies across Europe must look to incorporate the local perspective if they are to achieve wide success, says John Gourd.

By John Gourd

08 Oct 2013

As chair of the Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership, I understand the importance of having the right national policies to ensure businesses can thrive and I also recognise that when the EU framework conditions are in place, and local investment is well directed, then some of the barriers to economic growth can be lifted.

It is for this reason that I agreed to chair the two debates organised by the group ‘Smart partnerships for jobs and growth’ which will be looking at the EU’s industrial and youth employment policies from a local perspective. These two separate, but linked debates bring speakers from Norway, Croatia, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Turkey and Portugal together to analyse what the EU’s policies can mean in reality at a local level.

As a businessman I know that if my company cannot recruit the right blend of skilled personnel, then the competitiveness of the business will be compromised. Equally, as a chair of a local enterprise partnership with responsibility for steering European social fund investments for the next seven years I know the consequences on the social fabric of Hertfordshire if we fail to support our young people who are not in employment, education or training. But without the right framework conditions in place for the EU to be a strong global player in manufacturing, then there will not be high quality jobs for our young people in the future.

The two debates on 8 October at Open Days bring together speakers from more developed, transitional and less developed regions from the north, south, east and west of the EU, as well as an EU candidate country. Speakers at these two debates will share their experiences of implementing policies and projects on the ground which are delivering concrete results. I really appreciate engaging in such debates as I know there will be transferable models presented for the boosting of youth employment and the implementation of the EU’s ‘new industrial policy’. Because the subjects of both debates have relevance to each other, my job as chair of this event is to ‘make the connections’.

I value Open Days as it brings local players who are confronting local challenges to growth and jobs together with the policy-makers and EU programme architects. Hertfordshire is a driver for the British and therefore the EU’s economy, with strong sectors that are helping the EU to be competitive globally. The county is home to some leading edge knowledge-based businesses. Specifically, GlaxoSmithKline has a significant Hertfordshire presence (pharmaceuticals), as does EADS Astrium (satellites and space), Imagination Technologies (multimedia and communication technologies) and Johnson Matthey (speciality chemicals). More generally, over 50 per cent of Hertfordshire’s businesses are “knowledge intensive” – a figure that is 10 percentage points higher than the UK average.

"Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership will shortly finalise its EU structural and investment fund strategy, and therefore I am particularly interested to learn how other regions and cities have used and are planning to use EU funding and financial instruments to boost jobs and growth"

We have put in place our growth strategy for tackling the challenges facing Hertfordshire, not only today and tomorrow but over the next 10 to 20 years. We have been resilient to the recent challenges but know that if we do not make smart investment decisions now then our future competitiveness will be compromised. Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership will shortly finalise its EU structural and investment fund strategy, and therefore I am particularly interested to learn how other regions and cities have used and are planning to use EU funding and financial instruments to boost jobs and growth.

But we recognise that it is not our investment decisions alone that will determine whether we remain a leading EU knowledge region. We contributed to the commission’s consultation on its new industrial strategy last year. We highlighted that there are four key areas of concern. First, the future development of ICT and high-speed broadband; Second, better access to Finance and business support for SMEs; Third, improved energy infrastructure and green growth; and finally, the improvement of work place skills and education training.

While many of our concerns were taken on board there is still room for improvement. When I look at my own business area, I agree that the bio-based products market should be amongst the commission’s list of six “fast-growing areas for priority action” which can contribute to economic recovery in the short and medium term. It is also positive to see that the commission is breaking down its silos and DG enterprise is proposing measures to address employability and workplace skills as part of its industrial strategy.

The event organised by the ‘Smart partnerships for jobs and growth’ group is fully booked out and has not only a great line-up of speakers from the regions and cities of this partnership, but also a very diverse audience from across the EU. Registered participants are coming from various backgrounds and perspectives, and will be called upon by me to contribute to what will be a very interactive debate.

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