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by Kate Shannon
19 January 2015
Positive outlook

Positive outlook

In November, a groundbreaking initiative to help North Ayrshire businesses expand and create jobs celebrated its one-year anniversary. In its first 12 months, Team North Ayrshire has gone from strength to strength and is now working directly with the top 150 North Ayrshire-based companies which have been identified as having the greatest potential for growth. The initiative’s approach sees all partners working together to ensure local businesses have access to a wealth of expertise and financial support. The team includes key leaders from both the public and private sectors who have committed to helping drive business growth in the area.

North Ayrshire’s unemployment rate is now at its lowest level since 2008 – the current claimant rate is 4.3 per cent as of October 2014, compared to 5.4 per cent in the same period in 2013. One of North Ayrshire Council’s key objectives is to grow the area’s economy, regenerate its communities and create more jobs for local people, and Team North Ayrshire is a prime example of how the authority is working towards those aims.

Over the coming months the council will continue to work with businesses to create more jobs. There are also plans to develop an international strategy which will bring high-end jobs in key industries such as engineering and life science to the area and ensure North Ayrshire becomes an employment hotspot.

It’s great news that our unemployment rates are back to the 2008 levels but we can’t be complacent

In addition, Scottish Enterprise has selected North Ayrshire Council as the first local authority in the country to pilot the delivery of innovation services to help local business growth. The council has also appointed six business growth managers who will work with the top 150 businesses to help them develop bespoke growth plans and it is hoped this will create more than 450 local jobs over the next 12 to 18 months. Furthermore, over £100m of investments are planned to promote social and economic prosperity throughout North Ayrshire. 

Over the last 12 months, Team North Ayrshire has helped a number of local companies realise their growth potential. Early business success stories include: 

  • Sercon Services Ltd which developed its operations control room in Irvine and now offers a full range of electronic security solutions, including CCTV, alarm and lone working monitoring, allowing it to increase its service range and win new business 
  • Innovative wind turbine services company Prontoport increased its workforce from 28 to 38 full-time employees with further jobs due to be created over the next year
  • Former First Minister, Alex Salmond announced the creation of 67 highly skilled jobs by oil and gas service company Howco Group plc
  • Irvine engineering company Millar Callaghan signed a £1.2m contact to carry out work on the new Forth Crossing.  This will double its workforce by creating 17 new jobs including five apprenticeships

Karen Yeomans, North Ayrshire Council’s Executive Director of Economy and Communities, told Holyrood: “The North Ayrshire economy is growing in confidence. We’ve been through a deep recession and have had some of the highest unemployment rates in Scotland, however, we are now seeing businesses expanding. Times are still tough but we are starting to see business and consumer demand starting to pick up. 

“As an organisation, we’ve been working a great deal with our businesses over the past 12 to 24 months. Team North Ayrshire is a real partnership approach, which has seen us working with different public sector organisations and also the private sector. We have been looking at how we work collaboratively to support our businesses to grow, whether that’s about skills, finance or putting bespoke support together.

“It’s great news that our unemployment rates are back to the 2008 levels but we can’t be complacent and we can’t assume that we can ride with the ups and downs of the economy. Fundamentally we have an economy which has a lot of potential, but in reality there are challenges which we need to tackle now so that in the event of any future downturn, we are better placed to deal with it.”

One of the business successes for the area is local company Booth Welsh, which has moved its new head office premises to Irvine’s enterprise area, i3. Over the past 25 years the company has grown from two to 250 employees and has built a reputation for providing high quality control engineering solutions for blue chip clients across a wide range of industries. This move provides the foundations for the company’s ambitious growth strategy going forward and will help attract new clients and employees.

We have started on the road with Team North Ayrshire but there is still more to do this year

North Ayrshire Council is also creating three employment hubs which will operate as one-stop shops bringing partners together to deliver targeted services at a local level. Partners in the first instance include the Department for Work & Pensions and Ayrshire College. The first hub is due to open in Stevenston Library in late January 2015 and the investment from the fund will enable online services and facilities to be made available, as well as the delivery of online skills training and job search. The second and third hubs are planned in Irvine and the Garnock Valley, all areas of greatest deprivation where targeted local services can provide an intense specialist service.

Councillor Marie Burns, cabinet member for economy and employment, said from a political perspective, improving the economy and creating jobs are serious priorities. 
She added: “We decided very quickly after taking over the administration of the council in 2012 that given the economic profile of North Ayrshire, economic development was one of our key objectives. We had high levels of unemployment and were particularly keen to grow the economy and create jobs. One of the first things we did was to create a new cabinet post, which is mine. Our chief executive had previously set up an independent economic development and regeneration board, chaired by Professor Alan McGregor of Glasgow University. Myself, the leader of the council and the leader of the opposition all sit on this board, along with our key partners. That board is now the vehicle for the work we’ve been doing.

“We’ve still got a long way to go but it does remain the single most important issue for this administration. Last year we put a lot of effort into creating Team North Ayrshire and recruiting the six business growth managers and one of the things we need to do going forward is build on that. We also need to continue to listen and see what businesses need. We have started on the road with Team North Ayrshire but there is still more to do this year. We’re excited about how we move forward with that.”

Last year, North Ayrshire Council announced that in partnership with Ayrshire College, it will deliver sport and fitness courses in an innovative Skills Centre of Excellence. The local authority invested £1m into the ambitious project, along with £700,000 from the college, to open a skills centre within the school campus.

The initiative – the first of its kind in Scotland – is based at Irvine Royal Academy and offers 120 college student places and 100 higher education places for young people. This approach ties in closely with recommendations made by Sir Ian Wood’s Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce. 

Apprentices are also important to support the growth of businesses in the area. North Ayrshire Council’s Employment and Skills service is delivering a programme for modern apprentices which will see approximately 380 young people achieving skills for work and an SVQ as part of modern apprenticeships, either with the council or private sector.

In terms of regeneration, Yeomans said projects worth over £100m are either under way or about to start. Just a small number of these include the redevelopment of the Millport Marine Station; a £16m funding package which has been secured to allow the redevelopment of Brodick Harbour on the Isle of Arran; the completion of the Bridgegate House, Bridgegate public realm, Trinity Church and the multimedia large screen within Irvine town centre; and the start of new housing development sites at Montgomerie Park (Persimmon) and Perceton Gate (Dawn) in Irvine.

She added: “Not only do we work with our businesses and our residents, it is also about how we invest in the quality of the experience of living here. There’s a lot of work going on looking at how we invest in our towns, in particular Irvine. We have the enterprise area and the major retail areas, what we’ve agreed is something called Irvine Vision. This is quite exciting because it is a way we’ve been working with the community – business, residents and community groups. This is galvanising a raft of input about where Irvine should go over the next few years and its priorities. This is an important time for the whole of North Ayrshire and we hope to build on this in the next six months.

* This piece was written in association with North Ayrshire Council

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