South Staffordshire District Council: A collaborative approach to the economic recovery

South Staffordshire District Council have developed a ten-point plan for their local economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritising those areas where the council can make a real impact over both the short and long-term, and putting strong relationships with businesses and partners as the foundation.

The challenge

South Staffordshire covers an area of 40,400 hectares with around 80% of the district being green belt. The rest of the district is classed as open countryside and there are no towns or cities in South Staffordshire, but the district borders the Black Country urban area, including Wolverhampton, Walsall and Dudley, as well as bordering Stafford and Cannock Chase to the north. Insight shows that the majority of working age people living in South Staffordshire commute to other areas to work. Despite this outward movement, South Staffordshire is an attractive location for commercial development with a diverse range of small, medium, and large businesses and firms. However, some of the long term challenges the council faces includes providing a mixed portfolio of employment in terms of quality and size as well as retaining existing businesses, diversifying the economy, creating more skilled jobs and increasing the retention of young, educated residents.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges and amplified some of these issues, it has also presented opportunities such as the increase in remote working which may lead to a shift in demand away from urban centres. This can support the long-term objectives of the district set out in its local plan to develop an economic strategy that seeks to retain existing employment and foster sustainable economic growth, encourage inward investment and job creation in key sectors such as advanced manufacturing and providing the skills to enable residents to access these jobs. A viable economic recovery plan to support existing businesses and support the long-term objectives of the council was needed to build back from the impact of the pandemic and achieve long term sustainable growth.

The solution

South Staffordshire District Council set out their COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan which details the council’s strategic, operational and project-based actions it will focus on for the shorter and longer-term recovery of the South Staffordshire economy. The Recovery Plan summarises the council's contribution to supporting the economy of the district as it recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.

The immediate priorities of the plan is to build its intelligence on the economic impact of the pandemic, support business owner resilience, and provide business-friendly, flexible council services. As the Local Planning Authority, they are also prioritising providing sufficient land and premises suitable for investment and growth and working to secure the infrastructure to deliver sustainable growth. At its heart, the ten-point plan has a real focus on building trusting relationships with local businesses to support economic growth, raising aspirations and skills among young people, building a partnership approach to reduce the district’s carbon footprint, and seizing the opportunities to connect people, skills, and opportunity.

With this in mind, in June 2021 the council launched the South Staffordshire Business Place Partnership (SSBPP). The purpose of the SSBPP is to create a network of businesses across the district to share best practice, contacts, and business news. The partnership will also allow businesses and strategic partners to network effectively with the council and each other. This partnership will support public and private sector partners to identify issues, seek solutions and provide effective interventions to support businesses.

The impact and lessons learned

In developing the SSBPP, a number of public, private and voluntary sector organisations have joined the council to deliver on its pledges in supporting the businesses and wider community. This includes Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP, Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub, Stoke and Staffordshire Careers Hub, Federation of Small Businesses, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Chase Chamber of Commerce and Support Staffordshire.

Whilst in the relatively early stages of delivering the ten-point recovery plan and developing the South Staffordshire Business Place Partnership, some of the learnings include building trusting and constructive relationships with local businesses and partners is the primary factor in creating added value to every organisation. Through these existing and new relationships, the council can achieve more robust, intelligence-led outcomes through a combination of quantitative and qualitative information.  For instance, the district council worked with county, borough, and other district councils to pool funding from the government’s Additional Restrictions Grant. By working in partnership, councils and partners are able to deliver better outcomes for residents and businesses and develop prosperous economies at a wider scale.