31 January 2024
New Prosperity Board aims to drive forward Berkshire's economic success
All six Berkshire councils would work together to help seize opportunities to promote Berkshire to investors, businesses and Central Government
Proposals to create a new Berkshire Prosperity Board to help drive forward and deliver future economic success across the county are set to be endorsed by all six Berkshire Councils.
Under the proposals, all six councils would work together to help seize opportunities to promote Berkshire to investors, businesses and Central Government.
The new Prosperity Board would aim to drive and deliver economic prosperity across Berkshire with the aim of securing more funding, creating more jobs and enabling more affordable housing for residents.
The proposal follows discussions with council leaders across Berkshire. It will be discussed at all six Council’s Policy, Cabinet or Executive meetings before being formalised. If agreed, the first inaugural Berkshire Prosperity Board meeting could take place as early as May 2024.
Berkshire is not immune to challenges
Berkshire has played a hugely significant role in driving the UK economy in recent decades. It has great connectivity and is home to the UK’s Silicon Valley, as well as many innovative and international businesses, and has a highly skilled workforce.
Berkshire is not immune to economic challenges however, which include the changing trade relationships with Europe, high levels of inflation, labour market shortages and areas of deprivation.
Locally, many Berkshire residents are facing increasing living costs, a scarcity of affordable housing is a particular issue with median house prices costing almost 11 times more than median earnings, acting as a constraint to recruiting and retaining graduate talent and people with the skills Berkshire’s economy needs. Whilst Berkshire has low levels of deprivation overall, there are areas of significant poverty and disadvantage and some stark inequalities in health outcomes.
Working together to seize opportunities
The six Council Leaders want to work together and collaborate with other partners, including the business community, to share and effect an economic vision to collectively address challenges and seize opportunities, which would benefit local residents.
Working together provides a more powerful voice than each Council would have individually, helping to effectively lobby Government, secure more finance from both public and private investors, and to be an attractive location for inward investment.
Berkshire is already seeing growing industries, such as the film industry in and around Arborfield, Shinfield, Winnersh and Bray, and by working together it can harness future funding and provide a good base for investors to grow and develop.
In particular, the Berkshire Prosperity Board will enable the Councils to:
- Work to a shared vision of inclusive and sustainable economic prosperity to address challenges and deliver opportunities.
- Have a strengthened case to Government and private investors for greater investment into strategic projects across Berkshire.
- Working with Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to implement changes in the Government’s review of Local Enterprise Partnerships and deliver local economic priorities
- Have a stronger, collective voice in lobbying Government and other agencies.
- Place the six Berkshire Local Authorities in a strong position to take forward potential proposals which benefit from additional responsibilities and funding opportunities.
The proposed Prosperity Board is being discussed at respective Policy, Cabinet or Executive meetings in each of the six councils throughout February. Part of the discussion will consider the six key workstreams, which the Council Leaders have identified as key:
- Health and Inequalities
- Skills and education
- Affordable housing
- Sector development
- Strategic infrastructure
- Net zero
An important step that helps our economy
Cllr Stephen Conway, Leader of Wokingham Borough Council said: “The Leaders of the six Berkshire unitary councils have made great progress since May last year in working together to prepare the way for the Berkshire Prosperity Board. Over the next few weeks, each of the Councils will be asked to endorse the establishment of the new Board.
“The Berkshire leaders believe that the Board will give us a stronger voice than we have as individual Councils and will increase our chances of securing external funding for infrastructure projects and other initiatives that will help the development of the Berkshire economy. We see this is an important step that will help generate jobs, help address the climate emergency, and help deliver more much-needed affordable housing.”
Way forward for Local Economic Partnerships
The Government‘s current plans are to cease funding Local Economic Partnerships from April 2024. They will transfer local economic leadership and budgets back to local authorities in a bid to empower local leaders and communities.
Local authorities will receive the funding and core responsibilities for delivering these functions from April 2024. These core functions are as follows:
- Economic Strategy and Planning
- Business Voice
- Government Programme Delivery
Local authorities will also be expected to take responsibility for commissioning Growth Hubs and Skills Hubs.
Berkshire Leaders and the LEP have agreed they want to continue working in partnership to support the Berkshire economy. The LEP will remain an independent organisation. Berkshire Leaders have agreed that funding received from Government for the core functions will be used to commission specialist organisations (such as Thames Valley Berkshire LEP) to deliver outcomes.
The development of the Berkshire Prosperity Board with a nominated accountable body will allow Berkshire to accept funds from Government and together commission the core functions to address collective priorities.
The aim is that the first inaugural Joint Committee – Berkshire Prosperity Board meeting will be held in May 2024. Core members of the Joint Committee would include Bracknell Forest Council, Reading Borough Council, Slough Borough Council, Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, West Berkshire Council and Wokingham Borough Council.
The policy, cabinet and executive meetings take place on:
- 6 February – Bracknell Forest Council
- 19 February – Reading Borough Council
- 20 February – Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
- 22 February – Wokingham Borough Council
- 26 February - Slough Borough Council
- 14 March – West Berkshire Council
At these meetings each individual council is being asked to agree the recommendation of establishing a Joint Committee – The Berkshire Prosperity Board.
The Council meetings in each of the six authorities which will then ratify the Prosperity Board proposals are:
- 22 February – Wokingham Borough Council
- 7 March – Bracknell Forest Council
- 11 March – Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
- 11 March – Slough Borough Council
- 19 March – Reading Borough Council
- 26 March – West Berkshire Council
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