‘Uttlesford is open for business’...that was the tagline employed when the local economy’s key movers and shakers met to thrash out a strategy for the future.

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Saffron Walden MP Sir Alan Haselhurst kicked off the meeting of almost 70 representatives from the business community and Uttlesford District Council at Saffron Walden Golf Club today (Wednesday).

He said the district had “weathered the storm” better than most during the economic downturn and was optimistic about the future.

“Unemployment is at 1.2 per cent in Uttlesford, which gives the indication it’s not so much finding a job that’s the problem but finding the people to do the jobs,” explained Sir Alan at the ‘Future of the High Street’ business breakfast seminar.

He called Uttlesford “a healthy economy” and said that, in turn, raised the question of how to manage migration and new housing in the district.

“What is important,” Sir Alan added, “is for there to be a close relationship between businesses and the council.

“Elected people need the support of businesses so that, as the economy gets better and businesses thrive, issues relating to growth are addressed.”

Uttlesford cabinet member Cllr Howard Rolfe, whose portfolio includes economic development, echoed Sir Alan’s sentiment.

He said: “The dialogue between local government and the business community is absolutely essential. Uttlesford is open for business. It’s very important that we have that as an objective and we believe it. The challenge is how we turn that into reality.

“Any business guru will tell you that if you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards. We need to be innovating and we need to be changing.”

He said changes in Government funding meant the district council was going to have to rely on generating economic growth as one of the ways to fill its coffers.

“In about five years’ time, Uttlesford finances will be dependent upon the New Homes Bonus [a government grant for building homes], an increase in business rates, Council Tax and any income the council can attract for itself,” Cllr Rolfe added.

Last year the council put on free workshops to support businesses in terms of skills, planning and ideas.

Officers and councillors are also campaigning for better superfast broadband coverage, realising the importance of the technology in the 21st century, and aim to consolidate town teams in both Saffron Walden and Dunmow.

Speaking to the Reporter afterwards, Cllr Rolfe said: “We want to attract new, appropriate sustainable businesses to Uttlesford but also support existing companies and the High Street.

“The council wants to do its part to create the right environment. There are some things we cannot do but it’s about engagement so we’re aware how the business community feels.”

Money is already being spent from the £100,000 High Street innovation Fund grant Uttlesford District Council received in 2012.

Cllr Rolfe said part of this money could also go towards the town teams, free parking initiatives or business rates discounts, depending on what the priorities are for businesses and “what would make a difference”.

Also at the meeting was Chris Wade, chief executive of Action Market Towns, who gave a presentation about how to get 21st century towns looking like 20th century towns but “with more resolve”. Action Market Towns is a membership group which supports and campaigns for small market towns.

The gathering concluded with business representatives giving their input about the matters they felt were important and would make a difference to economic prosperity in Uttlesford over the next 12 months.

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