Collaboration, or rather the lack of it, is something that we in the private sector in Lancashire often berate our public sector colleagues about. The opposition that Preston City Council faced from Blackburn in respect of the Tithebarn project, the myriad of local authorities that operate across the county and the unseemly spats that occurred during negotiations for Lancashire’s Local Enterprise Partnership are all cited as examples of the business community’s frustration with our politicians and decision makers.
If only they could work more closely together, and adopt a more mature approach to co-operation, then surely the whole county would benefit.
At Downtown’s recently held Lancashire Business Week, there was much talk about the advantages of collaboration in the world of business too. Identifying alternative funders to the banks has seen SME’s turn to private equity and Venture Capitalists, leading to new relationships and partnerships being formed. Entrepreneurs who had recently visited Silicon Valley brought back their experiences of businesses in the States sharing ideas, information, data and skills to grow their own company in tandem with others. The attitude there seems to be much more about owning 50% of a decent sized cake worth eating, than 100% of a cake that is past its sell by date!
Lancashire businesses have started to form strategic alliances with complimentary companies, and ‘bartering’ has become more common place, with businesses more open to the idea of exchanging services rather than cash.
The biggest message to come out of Business Week was that we must collaborate – or face the consequences. The public sector had not been good at collaboration in Lancashire. However, there are signs that the Local Enterprise Partnership will help sort this out.
However, what collaboration exists between the diverse range of private sector organisations that operate in Lancashire? The county has three Chambers of Commerce, the FSB, Downtown and several others. It is healthy that a business community that is 44,000 strong has a choice as to what type of group (or groups) they want to belong to. However, surely it is also reasonable for politicians to ask that for the good of the county, we as private sector representatives should do some collaborating of our own.
There also appears to be a falsehood being peddled that business groups outside of chambers represent ‘only’ lifestyle businesses. This is neither true, nor relevant. Downtown has members from a diverse range of industry sectors, manufacturing among them. But the traditional sectors are not where future growth will necessarily come from. Digital, media, eco businesses and what we describe for shorthand as the ‘knowledge economy’ is where the smart money is being invested by smart cities.
Downtown co-exists and collaborates very comfortably with other business organisations elsewhere in the North West. The lack of interest, indeed the outright opposition among some, to a similar approach here in Lancashire is shocking. I would go as far as to say that partnership working to some business leaders is heresy.
Downtown is open to the idea of working alongside other organisations when it makes sense to do so and when such an arrangement can add value to the business friendly agenda we are all striving to secure. I hope the change in attitude that appears to be emerging from politicians on the LEP can be taken on board by private sector partners too. Collaboration, not garlic bread, is the future.
This article first appeared in Lancashire Business View, July/August edition