Is Opportunity Peterborough good value for our money?

Cathedral Square
Cathedral Square
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Ten years after its launch Opportunity Peterborough – the organisation set up to drive growth in the city – has appointed Steve Bowyer as its new chief executive.

Here we ask him some key questions on the organisation, whether it has been successful and its key plans.

1) Has Opportunity Peterborough’s remit changed in the ten years since its launch and what is the organisation’s focus now?

Opportunity Peterborough started out as an urban regeneration company, delivering the city’s physical growth and regeneration agenda, but in 2010 our remit evolved to place a greater focus on the city’s economic growth and development. In some ways the benefit of that evolution is best demonstrated by the work in Cathedral Square, where we led the physical transformation of the area and then subsequently delivered the marketing campaign to attract the many new restaurants and cafés.

Today our focus is very clear: we’re here to support businesses to grow our economy. So, any local company in need of help or guidance should come to Opportunity Peterborough. We’ll also continue our work to attract new investment to the city, and of course to drive the local skills and innovation programmes.

2) As a not-for-profit company owned by the city council, does Opportunity Peterborough represent good value for the taxpayer in these cash-strapped times?

I absolutely believe it does. We’re grateful for the council’s continued funding support, which understandably has had to reduce in line with their wider budget pressures, but in fact the council’s money is only a part of what supports Opportunity Peterborough’s operations. We’re extremely proactive in attracting other sources of funding, not just to underpin Opportunity Peterborough’s business, but for the benefit of the wider city.

That last point is important to reinforce: through Opportunity Peterborough’s input over £8 million has been attracted to the city in grant support, and that doesn’t include the massive investment from the private sector, such as Primark, TK Maxx, Patisserie Valerie etc. off the back of our inward investment campaigns. It’s important to consider other outcomes too, such as the creation of jobs in the city, which drives Peterborough’s prosperity overall.

3) The creation of The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in 2010 seemed to cover a similar brief to Opportunity Peterborough.  Isn’t there a danger both are doing a similar job? 

That’s a good question and I can see why people might start to think that. The LEP is doing a great job but its remit is very different, but complementary, to Opportunity Peterborough’s role. LEPs were established by central government to be a facilitator and distributor of government funding, while Opportunity Peterborough is an on-the-ground, business-led economic development company unequivocally focused on driving economic growth in Peterborough.

We’re the local hub for business and the first port of call for any company needing support to help realise their ambitions: from start-ups and SMEs, to large international businesses. Through a collaborative approach with the LEP, we’re able to deliver a robust and comprehensive business service.

4) What are Opportunity Peterborough’s biggest achievements to date?

There have been a lot over the last 10 years, so let’s just take some highlights. Without a doubt, the award-winning transformation of Cathedral Square and the creation of the restaurant destination quarter has to be up there. Also, the work we led on the city’s growth study and its partner piece, the ‘Peterborough Model’, had an incredible impact too: they were forerunners of the global ‘Smart City’ agenda which is now thought to be worth over £400 billion, and were part of the case we made in winning the £3 million Future Cities Demonstrator project funding from central Government.

We’ve placed Peterborough firmly on the national and international scene and showcased local businesses and innovations to new marketplaces through Peterborough DNA, our European projects and the Water Innovation Network. Closer to home, our Bondholder Network has been the envy of many other cities with its great opportunities to develop business connections, whilst The Skills Service, which Opportunity Peterborough launched in 2011, is inspiring our future workforce.

5) ...and what’s in the pipeline for Peterborough?

More investment, more growth, and more jobs.

We’ve seen a huge spike in the number of investment enquiries from both new businesses coming to the city and our existing companies looking to grow. Opportunity Peterborough will continue to support these businesses and drive future growth: confidence breeds confidence.

We’re really making a name for ourselves not only as one of the country’s fastest growing cities, but also one of the smartest. Through our work on the future cities programme and our involvement with government bodies such as the Cities Standards Institute, as well as world-leading commercial organisations, we’ll transform how the city operates and attract even more investment interest.

By 2025, Peterborough will be at the forefront of technology and innovation: many of our companies are already pushing the boundaries of research and development and as a Gigabit City, the digital highway is already in place for businesses to exploit.

We’ve talked a lot in the city about having our own university, and the establishment of University Centre Peterborough is a fantastic step forward. Opportunity Peterborough will continue to support the drive for a fully-fledged city university and will provide the bridge between business needs and ambitions, and the viability of a university.

6) The ‘Skills agenda’ is a big part of Opportunity Peterborough’s work... what is this and how successful has it been?

The Skills Service was originally set up by Opportunity Peterborough in 2011 with funding from Peterborough City Council. Effectively, it acts as an independent broker between local businesses and local schools to bring the two together to support and inspire our future talent pool.

Through the scheme, thousands of students across the city have met local business people. They’ve started to identify potential career routes, carried out mock interviews and practised CV writing: it’s about getting them ready for work. It is also about raising aspirations so that they can see the many opportunities that lie ahead. Now funded by the LEP, The Skills Service operates in Peterborough, Fenland, Rutland, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk and just keeps going from strength to strength. We’re pleased to be working with our economic neighbours and we’re grateful for their support and the support of all the companies and schools involved.

7) What are the economic challenges facing Peterborough as a city and how is Opportunity Peterborough helping to tackle them?

The future for Peterborough is undoubtedly very bright indeed. It has always been one of the biggest cities in the region, and our growth has significantly increased our national and international profile over the last few years. As an ambitious city however, there’s still more we can do.

Peterborough has a diverse and robust economy with more than 6,000 companies and five high performing business sectors. In national league tables, we consistently rank highly and were number two in the UK for jobs growth over the last 100 years. We need to continue this momentum to provide new employment opportunities.

We also need to look at the balance of the city’s economy to ensure a wide spread of job prospects and enhance the higher end aspect of Peterborough’s economic profile as one of the drivers to prosperity.

It’s why we have focused on supporting innovation and nurturing growth in Peterborough’s high value sectors, such as the environmental, engineering and agri-tech sectors, and the financial, digital and creative clusters. This will encourage development in higher end activity among existing companies, whilst also attracting new businesses to move to Peterborough.

The skills agenda is also vital for Peterborough, right across the board: from apprenticeships to higher education and post graduate research. We’ll continue to work with our partners to drive that whole agenda – proactive collaboration is building and will be absolutely vital in creating a city fit for the 21st century, our businesses and our citizens.

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