Local business leaders have heralded WCC's plans to aid economic recovery with an investment of £300m as a 'highly significant’ measure for the county’s economy.
Warwickshire County Council has plans to create a £140m fund to stimulate the county’s economy, create jobs, support local businesses and bring investment into the county with a further £160m investment in new housing, regeneration and creation of business premises. The overall £300m investment is a fundamental part of the Council’s Covid-19 Recovery Plan, and is expected to create over 3,000 jobs and safeguard many thousands more. It will drive recovery and regeneration while at the same time supporting the Council’s medium-term financial resilience.
The Warwickshire Recovery Investment Fund (WRIF) aims to allocate £140m over the next five years, offering loans and other financial investments to existing and new Warwickshire businesses to help their long-term recovery and growth, create and safeguard jobs, and attract new inward investment into the county, further stimulating the local economy. The Council’s Cabinet is due to make a decision on the final detail for the WRIF shortly and is expecting that the Fund will be open to the first applications later in 2021 and will start engaging with potential businesses over the summer.
Drawing on analysis, the Council expects that unemployment could rise from 7,000 at the start of 2020 to over 30,000 by the time the effects of the third national lockdown are fully felt. The GVA of the county – its economic output - is also predicted to fall sharply as a result of the second wave and further period of lockdown.
Warwickshire’s investment is designed to help address this, arrest the downward trend and drive growth and recovery of the county’s previously strong economy. It is anticipated that that the WRIF will also unlock and bring in around £100m of additional private sector investment and, through improved growth and productivity, create an increase in the County’s GVA of up to four times its initial investment.
The WRIF will initially be funded by the County Council’s short-term cash surpluses and borrowing, and will be recovered over time through the repayment of loans and other financial products.
The Warwickshire Property and Development Company (WPDC) will be launched later this year. The company will deliver new affordable and market priced homes and a range of commercial and mixed-use properties using the Council’s existing land and property assets to drive growth and regeneration. These are supported by plans for renewable energy opportunities across the county.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council and Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, said: “We are absolutely committed to working with our partners and with local businesses to ensure Warwickshire bounces back better with a vibrant and sustainable economy that is fit for the future in the world after the pandemic.
“We know that this is an enormous commitment but we are convinced that we need an ambitious and bold strategy to create a healthy job market with opportunities for everyone to find work. A strong economy will lay the foundations for so much of our ambition for the people of Warwickshire and helps us fund care for those most in need.”
Cllr Peter Butlin, Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for property and finance, said: “Warwickshire has always managed its finances prudently and that is how we are in a position to make such a strong investment in the county’s recovery.
“The fund will be managed with similar prudence. Much of it will consist of loans that will be repaid, as we both invest in our businesses to create jobs for our residents and generate a modest financial return. As well as that, supporting businesses to sustain themselves and to grow, keeping more people in employment across all ages, and safeguarding the Council’s tax base. As well as being the right thing to do to deliver our policy objectives for our residents, it is also financially responsible.”
Nick Abell, Chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is a highly significant level of funding across five years which will go to help companies across the county recover from the most drastic economic downturn of our generation.
“Companies have had to be very adaptable to get through the last year and it is great to see Warwickshire County Council showing similar innovation in the way it is offering support to the area’s business in what will be a key period of recovery as, hopefully, we start to return to more normal times.
“Local authorities across Coventry and Warwickshire responded very swiftly to help business when the severity of the pandemic began to impact and this is another major measure which aids our recovery as a region.”
Louise Bennett, Chief Executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "For the past 12 months, the focus has been on businesses surviving the Covid-19 crisis and that is, naturally, where national and regional support has been targeted.
"It's great to see Warwickshire County Council recognising that firms across the county are going to need help to aid their medium-term recovery and future growth and we very much welcome this new fund.”