Hull and Humber looking for road to recovery
Hull City Council has undertaken a strategic planning process and one thing is clear – it is not all about attracting one or two major multinationals to set up here and the rest will follow.
We need greater clarity on how we are more than just a good location for wind turbines. So what are the key drivers for Hull and Humber growth?
Hull and Humber the single brand:
A Humber LEP is an important focus for the region and a Humber Port places our estuary in a regional context that is one of the key trends up to 2050.
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Global population will have climbed to nine billion and 75 per cent of these people will live in about 50 City Regions generating over 60 per cent of global GDP.
Hull and Humber has to make sure that it is in this emerging Premier League of City Regions.
Consider the Port of Rotterdam. It covers 41 square miles and stretches over a distance of 25 miles.
It consists of the city centre’s historic harbour area; the Maashaven-Rijnhaven-Feijenoord complex; the harbours around Nieuw-Mathenesse; Waalhaven; Vondelingenplaat; Eemhaven; Botlek; Europoort and the reclaimed Maasvlakte area, which projects into the North Sea. Lots of different areas, but only the one brand!
The recently released Heseltine Report argues for more local control over the levers for growth – moving £49bn from central Government to the English regions. Lord Haskins, chairman of the Humber LEP endorses this view and is working hard to give the area focus and credibility to match any such shift in Government policy.
We need a louder voice on the national and international stage. We need to make the most of some terrific assets – the coastline; beautiful countryside and a city with an Old Town that is virtually intact around the medieval footprint and marketplace.
This is a major opportunity to build back footfall in the area; raise the profile on an international scale and generate jobs.
We need to build on our unique stories.
Migration: From 1836 to 1914 more than 2.2 million people moved through Hull on their way to the Americas; Australasia and South Africa. We have the Fish and the Larkin trail. Why note capitalise on this huge transmigration story?
Crafts and creativity: Many migrants stayed on in Hull and brought great skills with them. There were Jewish jewellers and cabinet makers. Why not make more of this heritage and encourage young people to enter these unique “Made in Hull” opportunities?
Nicola Chapman, of Oresome Jewellers, makes the point: “We have three of the best silver collections at the Guildhall; Trinity House and over at Howden. Can we find the talent to do this again?”
Trade flows: Founded in 1925, we have the oldest transport museum in Europe. Why not add a fresh perspective all about the products and commodities that moved through the port over the centuries, such as Humber Street and fruit.
Cruise ships: Given these narratives and the vastly improved built environment featuring the intact Old Town, The Deep, a superb museum quarter and a terrific hinterland, we have a real chance.
It is not enough to have the beds for tourists – many of them will stay on board. They will need things to do when they are here. All of the above are part of why Hull is unique.
The digital agenda:
How many people have a smartphone? How many an iPad? How many have played some form of video game or downloaded an app? The numbers are growing. Every business has to have a digital dimension or it is history and this is the same for regions such as Hull and the Humber.
What about breaking new ground and focusing on logistics – the new rocket science. How many people have a GPS system in their car? This is the way all forms of transport are going. Then, there are the simulation and simulator technologies for equipment.
We have been working with CatZero and Neets.
Every one of the young people who comes through the door plays video games, and learning all about logistics through simulation equipment is something they can relate to. It is learning by doing.
The Humber should be the place to study industrial simulation. It already is a leading centre for video games animation. Why not widen the focus and link our efforts to this boom industry?
Right now, other places are developing simulators for everything from truck driving to welding. Video gaming is estimated to be worth £130bn globally and in the UK it represents 10 per cent of gross value added.
In the past three years alone, the digital sector has seen a ten-fold growth and is now employing 1.7 million people. Lindsay West, of Garthwest Ltd, and the World Trade Centre in Hull launched Platform Expo at Hull Truck Theatre in 2010. By 2011 more than 1,500 delegates visited the KC Stadium to see what the digital industry could offer.
“This is not just about big business. This is more about small start-ups that can become bigger in time,” Lindsay said.
Hull can become the hub for all things digital.
The news is full of big business stories. In 2010, there were more than 20.8 million enterprises active in the non-financial business sector in the European Union, of which 99.8 per cent were SMEs.
About 92 per cent of the total business sector consists of micro enterprises, which employ fewer than 10 people. The typical European firm is a micro firm and these days they are close to being the only source of employment as the big guys move away to cheaper locations.
What does this mean for Hull and Humber? Simple, become the very best place for SMEs to do business in the EU. We start with several advantages. There is abundant land, office space exists and wages start from a low base. For employees, low wages (that will grow with prosperity); low-cost housing and beer in many pubs at less than £2 a pint.
Sam Pick, of the Renewables Network, said: “The renewables industry will not be about big business. Lots of SMEs will play a major role in supplying the big players, such as Siemens.”
More importantly, they will have to be part of the drive to reduce costs by about 30 per cent. This is a subsidised industry. Sooner or later, the end-to-end supply chain will have to be better, cheaper and faster. This means innovation and not doing things like we did before and expecting a different result.
Fundamentally, supply chains or networks of SMEs compete these days – not companies on their own. The Humber has to be the best network for each one of the core industries, from energy to chemicals to caravans.
Innovation is the key. Why can’t the Hull caravan trade build a niche in the affordable housing market and flat-pack a way to growth here and abroad? Consider this: Global humanitarian assistance cost $17.1bn in 2011 and, as global population rises, the need for affordable housing increases.
They say 50 per cent of future jobs have yet to be invented and there are many ways in which the work we know of will be transformed.
For example, many companies encourage people to work from home and others hot-desk in the city to cut costs. If we developed this more, a number of people who are housebound could join the workforce on equal terms.
Strategy is not about today’s share price or next quarter’s results. It is all about imagining what the economy, community and environment will look like in, say, ten years and producing the map to get there.
Rob Bell is CEO of logistics company Archomai.