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Revising Merton’s economic development strategy

    Merton is a relatively prosperous, well-connected suburban borough in London’s South-West. The borough has a number of economic strengths, with a highly skilled workforce, excellent transport links and, in Wimbledon, a local centre with international recognition. Despite this, Merton has struggled to achieve growth over the past decade and faces challenges due to deprivation in the east of the borough.

    Although the Council had an existing Economic Development Strategy (EDS) in place that had been completed in 2009, this needed to be revised in light of changing economic conditions and reductions in council budgets following the recession. Shared Intelligence was commissioned by Merton to produce a new EDS to guide ongoing economic development across the borough.

    The original strategy set out a 20-year economic journey for the borough, explains Shared Intelligence consultant Kevin Fenning. However, in practice, while the council had undertaken significant steps in the past two years towards supporting long-term economic growth, it was important to refresh the strategy to reflect continuing economic uncertainty, and new data on how the borough’s economy has responded to the recession.

    Prior to producing the Economic Development Strategy, the Council retained Shared Intelligence to produce an Economic Narrative for the borough, setting out the current status of Merton’s economy. Furthermore, Shared Intelligence utilised detailed business data to produce analysis of the key businesses in the borough, including the borough’s medium and large sized firms, high growth firms, and the key firms in a number of specific sectors.

    A number of challenges were highlighted through this process, says Fenning. Relative to the rest of London, Merton has relatively low numbers of jobs. Moreover, that number has remained almost static between 2003 and 2010, such that by 2013 Merton will almost certainly have experienced a ‘lost decade’ without employment growth.

    Analysis also revealed that the jobs that Merton does have do not match the sectors that are projected to generate employment growth over the next 10 to 20 years. Compared with the rest of London, Merton is too reliant on retail, manufacturing and construction employment and does not have enough jobs in business and professional services, continues Fenning. This implies that Merton could face serious challenges over the coming decade without conscious action to achieve employment growth.

    With a detailed understanding of Merton’s economy in place, Shared Intelligence then worked collaboratively with the Council over a number of intensive conducted strategy sessions to formulate the Council’s future objectives. In light of the economic challenges facing the borough, Shared Intelligence advised the Council to work with partners to ensure a number of key priorities were addressed. These were:

    retaining existing companies;

    supporting business growth and start-ups;

    attracting inward investment;

    developing town centre management functions including more support for BIDs where appropriate;

    providing support to identified sectors; and

    supporting residents into work.

    Shared Intelligence worked with the Council to develop an action plan that supported these priorities and was both practical and deliverable.

    The choice of each component partly reflected the original strategy, but also an improved and updated understanding of the borough’s economy and business base, as well as a realistic appraisal of the Council’s capacity to support growth, concludes Fenning. The EDS sets out Merton’s economic development priorities for the next three years and gives the Council a strategic framework to support growth in the current economic climate. It also clearly highlights the key actions they will need to take across a broad range of priorities to support that growth.

    Commenting on the report Sara Williams, Programme Manager for Future Merton, added: ‘Shared Intelligence grasped our local issues and focussed our minds so that we could understand how to meet the challenges, enabling us to put together a realistic strategy and action plan. Lee and Kevin were great to work with, bringing a methodical and practical dimension that enabled solutions to be found, which meant the project was delivered to time and to budget.’

    Following on from this work Shared Intelligence was commissioned by London Councils to produce a report on ‘What Makes a Business-Friendly Council’. Shared Intelligence has also been commissioned by the Borough to produce an Employment and Training Action Plan for Merton. The Action Plan will help the Council and its partners work together to address key issues around unemployment and training in the borough.

    Client: London Borough of Merton

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