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York’s business community takes active role in planning city recovery

The first wave of a series of virtual ‘roundtables’ made up of all sectors of York’s business community has now concluded – with the insights gained from businesses being used to implement support measures and develop the city’s recovery plans.

Working in partnership, Make It York, York BID, City of York Council, Federation of Small Business, York & North Yorkshire Chamber Of Commerce and the Local Economic Partnership have been holding roundtable meetings with over 120 businesses across the city’s key sectors to gather intelligence and identify the practical support measures needed.

Further waves of roundtable events are now scheduled in to build on this initial insight and continue to support businesses over the coming months – with businesses encouraged to get in touch with Make It York to be a part of this.

The twelve sector roundtables were made up of representatives across the city and from the discussions, common themes were identified across the different sectors of the city’s business community. The intelligence gathered has been used to develop and roll out a range of support measures for businesses following this feedback from the first wave of meetings.

The primary area of concern raised across all sectors was around finance and the assistance and support on offer. In response to this the Make It York team have been offering one-on-one guidance sessions with businesses to provide clarification on the support and funding they are eligible to receive.

The micro grant and additional extended micro grant scheme launched by City of York Council also supported 1750 small local businesses benefiting from £3.238m of grants to help in times of financial hardship, and aid businesses who missed out under previous schemes.

Another concern raised by city centre businesses was also around re-opening safely and how to increase consumer confidence in the safety of the city.

In response to this City of York Council created a business recovery toolkit pack which went out to 530 businesses – providing guidance on practical measures, posters, stickers and other support resources. Visible signage has also been installed to aid with social distancing and increase public confidence and York BID installed twenty-five hand sanitisers to promote cleanliness in the city.

The prospect of low footfall in the city was also raised as a worry for businesses. To support with boosting footfall, City of York Council implemented a number of measures- including extending the footstreet hours, introducing new car parking incentives to encourage people to visit the city centre and ensuring public toilets were reopened. York BID have also introduced ‘city hosts’ to help provide a friendly face to visitors, providing directions and guidance.

The marketing and promotion of York as a place to visit and do business was similarly raised as an area for continued focus. In response to this City of York Council and Make It York are rolling out a new six-month tourism strategy to promote the strengths of the city and encourage residents and visitors to enjoy the many unique experiences the city has to offer.

City of York Council are supporting the campaign with a proposed investment of £100K for targeted marketing activity, which is designed to boost resident and visitor experience , in order to support York’s tourism and leisure industry.

Other key areas of focus for businesses included the need for skills training – with a new online ‘Skills Hub’ being created by City of York Council and Make It York to provide an overview of opportunities available for local businesses by training providers across the country . This includes training on a local, regional and national level with a mix of courses including, free and partly funded opportunities.

Intelligence from the sector roundtables has also been shared with central government to call for more support in crucial areas- including financial support for both the arts and heritage sector and the hospitality industry which are key to York’s economy.

The recent business support measures announced by the Chancellor in his Summer Economic Statement included a £1.57bn package of financial support for the arts and heritage sector, a £1,000 new job retention bonus for every returning furloughed staff member, and a discount on eating out during August in an effort to support the UK’s hospitality industry.

Sean Bullick, Managing Director of Make It York, said: “The roundtable events have been a great reminder of the fact that we have so many world-class innovative businesses in the city which have been playing a central role in overcoming the Covid-19 crisis.

“Whilst there are obvious immediate hurdles that businesses across all sectors face, we have enormous confidence for the region’s economic future. A huge thank you to the businesses who have taken part in the roundtable events so far and shared their insights.”

COUN Andrew Waller, Executive Director for the Economy and Strategic Planning, said: “Supporting York’s businesses has been one of our priorities throughout the pandemic. Officers have worked hard to process over £110m of grants and rate relief for businesses.

“We also listened to small businesses and the self-employed who did not meet the national criteria and set up a micro business scheme to which additional limited funds from Government were added.”

“We have also worked with Make It York to launch the Skills Hub which will give businesses and employees the tools they need to adapt, upskill or simply diversify their skill set throughout these uncertain times.

“These virtual roundtables are crucial to understanding the challenges being faced by the wide range of business sectors in the city, and those that have fallen outside of Government guidance for whom we will continue to lobby for support. We want to continue this engagement to give local businesses a voice, save jobs and continue the positive partnership that has been created during the pandemic.”

Andrew Digwood, President of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The York & North Yorkshire Chamber has been pleased to play a role alongside other partners in helping to gather information from York businesses into the city’s economic recovery planning.

“I have personally found the roundtables to be very informative and useful, and it’s clear that many of the concerns and challenges are shared right across all business sectors.

“At the same time, however, there is clearly an appetite and a willingness to build a strong economic recovery in York and to learn from this crisis to develop and invest in new ways of working that might in the longer term prove to be positive changes for businesses, their employees and the city.

“When I’ve spoken to participating business owners and leaders outside of the roundtables, I’ve been pleased to hear that many of them have also found the conversations we’ve had to be useful and supportive as they think about plans for the coming months in their own businesses. I hope that we will be able to build from this a solid foundation of support and information that will see our city’s economy weather the crisis and emerge with resilience to seize new opportunities.”

Businesses who are interested in participating in the next wave of roundtable events can contact the Make It York Business team on business@makeityork.com .

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