Nigel Tipple: Today, Oxfordshire - tomorrow, the world

Nigel Tipple

Nigel Tipple - Credit: Archant

If you’re going to be the boss of one of the UK’s 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, Oxfordshire is one to pick; as Nigel Tipple explains

Oxfordshire puts more into the national economy than it takes out, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, two world-class universities, high performing FE colleges and a highly skilled and educated workforce.

So the CEO of its Local Enterprise Partnership since 2013, Nigel Tipple, can sit back, put his feet up on the desk, loosen his tie and smugly survey his patch?

Apparently not. When we meet he talks for over an hour, almost without stopping, nearly falling over his words to explain how much world-class potential there is still to be realised in Oxfordshire.

The Government evidently agrees. The county’s strategic economic plan, written by Oxfordshire’s local economic partnership in 2013 after extensive discussions with the public and private sector, social enterprises, further and high education, is delivering in spades. The first windfall came in January 2014: £55 million for its City Deal. The bulk of the money is being invested in four innovation hubs (at Harwell, Culham, Begbroke and the Oxford BioEscalator) and key transport connectivity. The rest of the money is supporting apprenticeships and progressing delivery of over seven thousand new homes.

Then there is the £108 million of Government growth fund, for transport infrastructure, more innovation and technology centres, and refurbishment at The City of Oxford College. A tasty £10 million was received in the latest round of growth deals and all this doesn’t include £100 million for Bicester Garden Town, £20 million for the Milton and Chiltern interchange, £100 million for the A34 Peartree interchange and the proposed Oxford to Cambridge expressway via Milton Keynes. Oh, and more railwayinvestment at Oxford Parkway and Didcot.

Why does the county deserve so much Government money? For Nigel, it’s a no-brainer.

Most Read

“We have so much to offer the world. We focus particularly on eight great technologies: Energy storage, big data, satellite technology, robotics, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science and advanced materials.” All of which are in global demand.

But Oxfordshire has urban and rural issues, from pockets of deprivation at Blackbird Leys in Oxford to the green and pleasant rural landscape where communities are fiercely proud of the quality of place and don’t want an economic strategy that only provides for housing or employment, without respecting where it will sit. But they do want broadband connectivity.

“We also have centres of population with significant growth and locations with no growth for many years,” adds Nigel.

“We have to invest to grow and we have strong knowledge exchange teams at Oxford University and Oxford Brookes.”

But academic institutions are famous for talking a different language to business, so how does it work in Oxfordshire? “When I arrived, their doors were half open,” said Nigel. “We just opened them wider to let the conversation grow.” Oxfordshire’s local enterprise partnership is focusing on people (skills), places, enterprise and connectivity. But where will all these new employees come from if unemployment is so low? (the plan is for 85,000 new jobs by 2031).

Apparently by encouraging those who commute out of Oxfordshire to stay in the county, as well as building new homes for a growing population.

Oxfordshire is also working with other of LEPs, particularly in the Thames Valley and around London. “We’re collaborating on 5G which is being led by the University of Surrey, working with other LEPs on an investment proposition. We are clear on our local issues, and mature enough to realise we are not always the ones to lead on a particular project.”

Successful economies are built on small businesses growing and Oxfordshire’s business support portal has a network of navigators to help businesses find appropriate support. Nigel cites John Vandore, an international cryogenics specialist. “He is a down to earth pragmatic

individual within an incredibly complex technology sector that is important to our economy. John speaks the language of business and university researchers. And he knows the business support network.”

The only cloud on the horizon at the time of this interview is the 2015 election.

How does Nigel think the next Government will deal with LEPs? “We have to keep going, demonstrating we deliver. I am confident that whichever political party, or parties, form the next government, LEPS in their current form have value.”