Barclays has today (6 Nov) announced the launch of its new economic growth initiative for rural communities in Taunton Deane, Somerset. 

Taunton Deane has been chosen as the bank’s third local economy pilot location as part of its study into different types of communities. Barclays will join forces with local leaders in the heart of the area across government, business and education to identify how to boost the local economy through a landmark study and over a three-year period, introduce bespoke programmes and support to help local businesses to grow and give people the skills the area needs to thrive1.

With Barclays research2 revealing that only 49% of businesses in the region feel optimistic about the UK economy, the bank’s initiative seeks to shine a spotlight on regional growth opportunities so that local communities can become an engine room for job creation and the UK economy as a whole.

Furthermore, 40% of businesses in the town of Taunton believe that there isn’t a ready supply of qualified potential employees, 39% say that they can only find applicants with the right skills “some of the time” and 59% believe that skills needed for employees have changed over the last year.

In response, LifeSkills created with Barclays will deliver training to Year 9 pupils in schools across Taunton Deane to help meet the skills needs of local businesses including adaptability, communications and solution-orientated. It will centre on industries such as retail and agriculture, with the local labour market in mind. Additionally, the programme will focus on attracting young people to the consider the rural business sector in their local areas as part of their career path.

In addition, the Taunton Deane pilot will see the bank introduce tailored support to help farmers and the rural business community. It is launching a package of business support including a programme of workshops focused on specific issues affecting businesses in rural economies including succession planning, business strategy and support through Brexit uncertainty. It will also run seminars on Agri-Tech led by the banks’ specialist industry team and promote women in Agriculture.

Launching the programme at Bradon Soft Fruit Farm in Isle Abbotts, Taunton, Barclays UK Chairman Sir Ian Cheshire, said:

“Rural businesses and in particular the agriculture sector have supported the UK economy for centuries and shown resilience, adapting through significant periods of change. During times of uncertainty it’s critical to ensure that investment opportunities for growth are not just the preserve of big cities, but that areas like Taunton Deane benefit too. Working with the community here, our Thriving Local Economies programme seeks to boost skills and aspirations of young people, and encourage business and employment growth, which we believe will not only help the local area to prosper, but make valuable contribution to the UK economy as a whole.”

The Taunton Deane rural pilot follows the launch of the first pilot in Bury, Greater Manchester in September 2018 and Kilmarnock, Scotland in June this year. Barclays will work with one further pilot area in the five-year programme: a coastal town, to gain a broad depth of understanding into how each type of local economy can grow.

The new commitments to Taunton Deane and rural communities like it follows on from the launch of the bank’s ‘Brexit clinics’ specifically tailored for agriculture clients, aimed at helping the farming community nationwide. The bank has also recently launched campaigns championing farmers on topics of diversification and creating a pipeline for future talent.

Building Thriving Local Economies

Building Thriving Local Economies will focus on understanding needs and opportunities on the ground in pilot sites in four different parts of the country, representing four different types of place (a metropolitan borough, a rural community, a coastal area and a smaller town). Each pilot will last for three years. Their launches will be staggered, meaning that the initiative overall is a five-year commitment.

The initiative will focus on four key areas:

  1. Understanding the Local Economy – it is really important for businesses and local decision-makers to understand the real strengths and opportunities in the local economy itself and as that local economy relates to the broader economy
  2. Skills and Training – it is vital that local people know the skills needed to maximise their potential in the jobs market and have opportunities to access the training needed to get them
  3. Aspiration and Confidence – having a sense of aspiration and self-confidence when looking for a job; particularly among school leavers is vital
  4. Growing Businesses – smaller businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, helping them grow will be crucial to our future economic success as a nation

In each pilot Barclays will undertake analysis of the local economy. This, in turn, will provide insight into the skills and training needs, driving aspiration and confidence, with the aim of helping businesses to grow. We will engage local decision-makers, schools and colleges, businesses and business groups to get their views. Working with these partners will inform specific actions which Barclays will commit to take under each of the four areas above.

Barclays will measure the impact of what we do, and share the results publicly at regular intervals. We will be transparent around where our actions have had success and, equally, where our intervention may not have had the impact we had hoped. We can learn as much from what fails as what works.

Barclays will share our learnings locally and with national decision-makers to help inform the debate about how we deliver the best economic model for our country and build a national framework of action.

1Taunton Deane, in the south and west of Somerset, encompasses the towns of Taunton and Wellington as well as many small villages and rural communities.

2Research: YouGov amongst 150 managers/ business owners with hiring responsibility. Fieldwork was conducted between the 18th September and the 9th October 2019 for the town of Taunton.

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