The report before Members provided an update on the recent and planned activity of the Council’s approach to developing partnerships with business, which was led by the new Development Service.
Members noted that there would be a refresh of the Economic Development Strategy to achieve clarity as to where the Council’s focus should be on economic development.
Business development fell under the new Development Directorate. There was a small team focused to deliver a number of activities that aimed to encourage investment, private sector job growth, enterprise and enhance the borough’s competitiveness. The majority of project activity supported delivery of the Opportunities theme of the Havering Vision and 2017/18 Corporate Plan.
Support to small businesses
The borough currently had just over 9,000 businesses, of which, 92% were micro-sized businesses with up to 9 employees.
In terms of economic performance, the direction of travel for Havering was strong. In May 2017, Havering was rated top of the London boroughs for its business survival rate and also came top specifically for having the highest survival rate for technology businesses.
In terms of business partnerships and engagement, the Council’s Business Voice Board of 22 local businesses met quarterly and was chaired by one of the Council’s largest employers, Neopost. The aim of the Board was to enable the Council to work in partnership with the businesses to help shape support provided and create the conditions that would generate economic and job growth.
Members noted that the Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment, Regulatory Services and Community Safety sat on the Chamber of Commerce Executive which met on a monthly basis.
Significant investment was also taking place to facilitate and enable the development of business-led partnerships across the Council’s seven town centres. The Council was working closely with the Romford Town Management Partnership (RTMP) to develop a Romford BID (Business Improvement District) proposal and deliver a ballot campaign.
A Hornchurch Town Team had been established and was currently holding workshops to develop its own town brand and marketing campaign to encourage a higher footfall in the town, as well as digital connectivity support, to help businesses to market themselves and trade online.
Consumer and business consultation exercises had recently been completed in Elm Park, Upminster, Harold Hill and the Council was awaiting the research results in order to determine specific needs in each area. Collier Row and Rainham consultation exercises had both commenced and will continue until October.
The Council received recognition for its wide range of support to develop the micro and small business community in March 2017 by being Highly Commended for the award of Best All Round Small Business Friendly Borough at the Local London Small Business Friendly Awards.
Links with business rates
There were approximately 6,000 properties in Havering that were liable for National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) and the underlying value of these properties were normally re-assessed every 5 years.
The 2017 Business Rates revaluation came into effect on 1 April and the majority of Havering businesses had experienced an increase.
In the March 2017 Budget, the Chancellor announced £300m to support those business most adversely affected by the recent revaluation of commercial properties. Havering would receive total funding of £1.69m over a 4 year period.
Attracting large businesses
There were currently only 20 businesses with more than 250 employees across Havering. This equated to 0.2% of the Havering business profile and was slightly lower than the London figure of 0.4%.
As a result, an increased focus was now being taken to attract large businesses to relocate to the borough and a new Corporate Performance Indicator had been introduced for 2017/18 to reflect this.
The Development Service Plan outlined a number of actions, including developing a clear and ambitious Inward Investment offer for Havering, with a delivery plan for attracting enquiries and conversion.
Officers advised that the Council continued to present to commercial property agents and the Council was keen to find out from the agents what it needed to do to attract larger businesses.
Market management and support with diversification
In terms of operational performance, since May 2017, there had been a 3.5% increase in licenced traders (from 70 to 75), 21 additional casual traders (totalling 48 new casual traders this year to date) and 10 new casual catering traders, which had improved the food offer and provided a more varied range. The aim was to continue this upward trend, culminating in a market which felt vibrant and busy, with an improved choice of quality products.
In terms of diversification, although the physical transformation project, the Market House, became cost prohibitive, it was stressed that the principle activities of the Romford Market Transformation Programme, as set out in the November 2015 Cabinet Report, remained and alternative proposals were being developed.
In August 2017, a proposal was submitted to Historic England to designate Romford as a Heritage Action Zone. If successful, it would enable increased investment, particularly in the public realm and build the capacity of local people and visitors to understand and engage with local heritage.
During the debate Members commented on several issues including:
Concerns regarding the closure of banks and post offices in town centres and the effect it had on businesses left in the area.
Members also had concerns about Romford town centre and the fact that there were two large retail units vacant within the town centre.
I response officers advised that most town centres were struggling due to the impact of internet shopping and Romford town centre was actually quite vibrant compared to some areas.
Concerns were raised about the impact the proposed Lidl store in Hornchurch would have on existing smaller businesses in the town centre. Officers agreed to forward Members concerns to the Town Centre Manager.
Members noted that Councillors Frost and Patel met on a monthly basis with small businesses/shopkeepers in the Collier Row area.
There was general agreement that wider consultation of all Members take place regarding any development of town centres as all Members had constituents that shopped in various parts of the borough.
Members reviewed the report and noted the progress.