Professor Jane Turner OBE DL is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Engagement at Teesside University
All universities have a vital role to play in supporting people on their doorstep – and it is essential that institutions engage with local authorities and their communities to make the most of their expertise to deliver economic impact.
Never has this ethos been more important than now and we have developed a practical support package to help businesses through the coronavirus emergency: Along with other agencies, our university is working with the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) to ensure a co-ordinated approach, helping the region’s businesses to stay resilient and be ready to grow when the Covid-19 crisis is over.
We have extended this by working with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen on a survey to understand the effects the pandemic has had and may continue to have on companies across the region, and the short, medium and long-term support they need. As a university, we are doing everything we can to provide support, assistance and guidance but it is absolutely vital that we work together as a region through this crisis: acting now, to support our businesses, to understand their immediate issues, so they are able to emerge from this situation better equipped to face the challenges ahead. This survey provides a voice for business leaders to express their current needs, concerns and plans, thus enabling a coherent and relevant response to the business community
Collaboration is crucial as we seek to help our people withstand the economic impact of Covid-19 and be ready for strong recovery. We want to play our part in helping companies in the Tees Valley and further afield get through this crisis and emerge as strong as possible, positioned for competitive performance. However, the speed with which we have been able to turn around our support package is down to the long-standing collaborations we have with local government, businesses and other partners.
For the past five years we have taken on the mantle of an ‘anchor institution’ – one that is rooted in the local community by our mission – which aligns business and innovation support to meet short and long-term regional economic goals. At the heart of this is a
Memorandum of Understanding between our university and TVCA that we agreed to formally outline the scope of collaboration around supporting the rebalancing of the regional economy; start-up creation; support for scale-up businesses; improving innovation performance, skills and employability; and economic diversification.
The relationship between us and TVCA is, in many ways, the ideal concept of a joined-up approach to economic development. Whilst our immediate priority is delivering our Covid-19 business support package and services ranging from supporting organisations transferring from physical services to online delivery to raising awareness and helping business access government support; and one-to-one support for business owners to writing bids for grants, mentoring and training, it is also important that we do not lose sight of what is going to be needed in the economic climate we are facing.
The University plays a key, wider, role in planning the way forward. As a Board member of the South Tees Development Corporation alongside local authority and business, we, in collaboration with the local community, set the vision of the South Tees area focusing on economic growth and inward investment, and were also involved in the formation of our Local Industrial Strategy. Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Croney, also sits on the Board of Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership.
Our collaboration is already notable because it is the first civic engagement of its kind between a combined authority and a university. It was also originally built around the shared goal of creating 25,000 jobs by 2022 and attracting £1 billion investment – but, as previously, we need to continue be agile in thinking and quick to react to regional challenges and opportunities such as economic shocks and government policy.
Prior to Covid-19, our partnership was already operating with impact, strategically and operationally, and beginning to fulfil the potential we see for the Tees Valley. We can, and will, deliver economic impact once this crisis is over.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen is leading efforts with Teesside University and other organisations across the region to develop a package of targeted measures to help businesses impacted by the pandemic to recover quickly and to be resilient to future shocks.
To inform this, a survey was launched in May to understand in detail the effects the pandemic has had on organisations across the five boroughs in the Tees Valley. The results will allow Mayor Houchen to ensure the right measures and support are put in place for businesses all sizes, from sole traders to large enterprises. The information will also enable the Mayor to influence government policies so that they reflect the needs of Tees Valley businesses.
Mayor Houchen said:
“It is vital that we do all we can to keep local businesses afloat. They are not only the backbone of our economy, but they are also people’s livelihoods, and they are currently facing greater pressures than ever before. It is why I am determined to make sure our amazing business owners get the support they need over the coming weeks, months and even years. Every business will be different, each one with its own story to tell and unique concerns, so we need to get as much information as possible from these organisations. Then we can make sure the right support is available.”