Monday, 22 June 2015

Building a vibrant economy in West Sussex

As I’ve mentioned before in previous blogs, the economy is one of our three key priorities at West Sussex County Council. We are very fortunate in the South East to have a strong economy – but for that to remain it is important that it is nurtured. In West Sussex we have a diverse economy with a good mix of large, small and medium sized businesses across the county.

In a way it reflects the history of the county which, when the County Council came into being in 1889, was very rural but has changed and adapted over the years. We now have a mixed economy spread across our towns and our more rural areas. For us to support our economy we also need to reflect this diverse nature.

We know we need to improve the West Sussex economy and as part of that we are working on our Five Bold Ideas, one of which is the Beautiful Outdoors campaign which was launched last week. We have glorious countryside, but surprisingly it is one of those ‘best kept secrets’. The Beautiful Outdoors aims to promote the natural assets of our countryside to cyclers and walkers as places for them to visit and stay. To help improve our countryside network for visitors and residents, we successfully submitted a bit to the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Fund Sustainable Transport for a £450,000 package for enhancements to footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes.

We want to attract people from London and the South East to see what West Sussex has to offer – so instead of working out in the gym, why not work out in the Beautiful Outdoors of West Sussex.

It’s also a very positive step to support our rural communities, whether it is tea shops, pubs, restaurants, B&B’s – not to mention cycle shops – all very much part of that rural visitor economy which is so important to our lovely West Sussex market towns and villages. Over the past six months or so we have been engaging with local businesses on this campaign, and have been really encouraged by their interest and support for which I am very grateful. You can check out the Beautiful Outdoors website here.

But of course it doesn’t stop there. Not only do we want a vibrant rural economy but also vibrant towns , and we do have some great towns in West Sussex – East Grinstead being one of them. East Grinstead has a terrific history – the High Street contains one of the longest continuous runs of  14th century timber framed buildings in England as well as the notable Sackville College.

In more recent times the Queen Victoria Hospital was the site where the pioneering and justly famed Plastic Surgeon Archie McIndoe treated World War II burns victims and formed the Guinea Pig Club (check out some fascinating info at our Records Office). In 2014 his work was celebrated by the unveiling of a magnificent statue.

I always enjoy visiting East Grinstead and last Thursday evening I drove through some of the most stunning countryside on my way to the town to attend the East Grinstead Business Association’s inaugural lecture, where Jeremy Seigal, the Chief Executive for White Stuff, was giving the lecture. In November 2014 White Stuff opened a new store in East Grinstead which was great news for the town, with the store expanding its retail offer and showing its commitment to East Grinstead.

The lecture was absolutely fascinating as it gave a real insight into how the company views a town when looking to invest. However, that was only part of the lecture and the history of the company, how it expanded, its ethos and Corporate Social Responsibility made for a truly informative evening. It was well supported by local businesses, the Town Council, and Mid Sussex District Council - showing we are all working together to support the local economy.

Well done to East Grinstead Business Association, it really was a tremendous evening. My focus on the economy continues as I am looking forward to meeting the Sussex Federation of Small Businesses this Thursday.

Best wishes,

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