More than 200 delegates saw Lord Heseltine give the keynote address at the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s Solent Growth Summit at the Botleigh Grange Hotel.
The landmark event saw the former Deputy Prime Minister urge the region’s businesses to get behind the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) bid to create a Strategic Economic Plan for the region.
All the delegates took part in a public consultation session on the plan using handsets, allowing interactive voting on questions around key elements of the strategy including the marine and maritime sector, skills and transport.
Lord Heseltine has set out a comprehensive economic plan to improve the UK’s ability to create wealth with his influential report ‘No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth’. It makes the case for a major rebalancing of responsibilities for economic development between central and local government, and between government and the private sector.
Lord Heseltine said: “It was great to see so much enthusiastic support for the important work of the Solent LEP. It is clear to me that the LEP and the region understand the need for an ambitious strategy to drive growth and deliver on the Solent’s huge potential.
“We want to see LEPs taking the lead on local economic development from Whitehall and shape the agenda in their backyard. That’s why I wanted to come here today and urge you all to continue to do that, to be ambitious on your own behalf and reap the rewards of that vision.”
The summit also saw the signing of a Business Charter between the Solent LEP and the Hampshire and Island Business Alliance, a pioneering joint venture between regional business organisations to deliver business support and ensure the most effective business engagement between the Solent LEP and local businesses.
Newly elected Solent LEP chairman Gary Jeffries said: “Lord Heseltine had an important message for us all: we can’t simply sit back and look to London for support. The solutions to the Solent’s challenges must come from within. We must rely on our own ingenuity to use the funding available to us wisely and generate the maximum benefit to the economy.
“That’s why the summit was so encouraging. It was fantastic to see so many local people working together, genuinely committed to making the region prosper. We aim to build an economic plan that will give the Solent the surest prospect of success. The only way to do that is by tapping into the reservoir of knowledge and expertise of local people and using this to direct our resources to best effect.”
A new £100,000 fund designed to help young people start businesses was also launched during the summit. The Young Entrepreneurs Fund offers grants of between £500 and £5,000 to assist 16-24 year olds in creating new companies.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry, chair of the LEP’s Solent Employment and Skills Board, said: “Young people will have a major role to play in creating growth and developing the Solent economy. I am proud that we can now add to our impressive range of business support a fund that actively looks to encourage young people to start their own businesses and capitalise on the huge creativity and entrepreneurial spirit we know abounds in our youth.”