Opportunity Peterborough is an economic development company serving the needs of the city. So far so good. But what does that mean for businesses, in practical terms? The Business Moment gets the lowdown from director Neil Darwin
On the face of it, Opportunity Peterborough’s remit is simple: they are tasked with both attracting new companies to the city and helping them set up, and supporting existing businesses to flourish and prosper – providing advice, useful contacts and economic intelligence. Whilst we all generally applaud such support and services, many of us may be slightly hazy about the specifics – about the nuts and bolts of what exactly is on offer for our business. There are also those cynics, of course, who habitually dismiss any such enterprise as being about little more than kind words and the dispensing of leaflets.
Opportunity Peterborough is far from being an organisation that merely encourages from the sidelines, however. For one thing, they’re not just involved with startups or new arrivals – they’re trusted by some of the biggest and most experienced business names in the city.
Director Neil Darwin explains
We’ve worked closely with companies such as Perkins and BGL, right down to small companies that have been going only a matter of weeks. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty, either. Not long ago, they got actively involved in a thorny issue whose successful resolution helped a business stay in the city and in so doing kept 450 jobs in Peterborough
Opportunity Peterborough has now been going seven years, and, as Neil explains, was initially formed as an urban regeneration company as part of the previous government’s policy.
There were about 20 in the country and they were tasked with physical regeneration and economic development of individual places. Peterborough was quite an unusual model as it had a much wider city-growth brief, rather than just site-specific development
Then, about three years ago, due to various changes that were taking place, the decision was made to move physical regeneration back into the local authority – Peterborough City Council – and leave Opportunity Peterborough to focus on economic development.
After the recent austerity measures, we’re now one of a handful of such companies left in the country. But from the city’s perspective, and in the long-term, it will pay off because we’re delivering a focused remit
So, what can Opportunity Peterborough do for someone with a business? “We can support them at a multitude of levels,” says Neil. “The simplest thing we can do is have a business join our bondholder scheme, which is a free network that enables people to find out what’s going on in the city and encourages business to business activities and opportunities. But we can help companies in whatever way they want: whether it’s working with them on new schemes, helping them source funding, advising of business growth plans, working with the local authority, or improving export opportunities. The answer might not be within Opportunity Peterborough, but we can certainly find someone else who can help.”
The phrase that crops up time and again in our conversation is “helping businesses at any level”. Suddenly, the key challenge for Opportunity Peterborough in getting their message across becomes clear; there is no one simple thing that they offer – what they provide is defined by the needs of the businesses that come to them. It’s a bespoke service, and, as such, hard to define in simple terms – but incredibly broad in its potential.
“Yes, that’s how we’re designed,” says Neil. “Fundamentally, what we’re about is ensuring that business thrives in the city, and if there’s a blockage of any kind, we will assist.” He is keen to stress that they are not simply about trying to attract new business to the city.
We recognise that actually the biggest client base for us is Peterborough’s indigenous businesses. We have 5,000-plus companies here, and they are the life-blood of the city. Obviously if there’s anything that’s stopping them from growing – or indeed causing them to decline – they should contact us
As their impressive roster of recent successes shows (see separate panel) they can make a material difference, and clearly have found favour with many well-established businesses who are not necessarily easy to impress. In Neil Darwin’s view, it helps that they are a business themselves – associated with, but separate from, Peterborough City Council. “We’re a business working with businesses. That’s the ethos we want to carry forward, to have more traction with the private sector. We have an independent board made up of predominantly private sector leaders in the city, chaired by John Bridge, also CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. That independence works, because people like to do business with business. Also on the board we’ve got the leader and the deputy leader of the council, so we’re equally well-placed to work closely with council departments. What we try to capture is the best of both worlds.”
So, what does the future hold for Opportunity Peterborough? “We’ve got some really interesting plans on how we can develop further, for example working more closely with UK CEED – the UK Centre for Environmental and Economic Development. Again, this will really help Peterborough gain a higher national and international profile.” Neil’s view is that the biggest problem Peterborough faces is the way it is perceived – a perception he is keen to change.
I think our reputation holds us back, actually. If you’re a business looking to move, Peterborough is a fantastic option. It’s cost effective, we have a great workforce able to do a range of jobs and we have a really strong, easily accessible, catchment area. The ingredients are right – but sometimes we seem to either not appear on people’s radar or have a negative reputation that I think is unfair on the city
Time and again, when talking to people in the business community, Neil has found the real experience of businesses coming to the city to be the exact opposite of that image. “Once businesses are here and working, they know it’s the best place they’ve ever been.”
That image may not change overnight – but ultimately what will wash it away will be the clear and demonstrable success of individual Peterborough businesses. And that, maybe, is where Opportunity Peterborough can help.
For more information, contact:
St John’s Street
What can Opportunity Peterborough do for me? Well here are a few recent examples…
OP provided assistance working with Peterborough City Council (PCC) Planning for the establishment of a new facility, brokering resolution to planning issues and advocating investment benefits locally. Result: 100+ new jobs.
Assisted in major international company investing in Peterborough through property, finance and planning negotiations. Helped with set-up and embedding company within local scene.
Assisted in recruitment for a major international company setting up in Peterborough, providing links to local agencies, venues for recruitment fairs and recruitment advice.
Instrumental in attracting new high street eateries and shops: Patisserie Valerie, Nando’s, Carluccio’s, Primark, TK Maxx, with more to follow.
BUSINESS RELOCATION SERVICE
Assisted with property search, resulting in purchase of freehold 3,000 square foot office space in city centre. Assisted with location of design plans within PCC Planning for reconfiguration of space. Also introduced company to public sector contacts to exploit prototype fraud management product that requires local input before being brought to market. OP also enabled the company to network with other high profile business people.
Assisted owner in finding premises and attended meetings together with BusinessLink Advisers. OP helped company link up with local Jobcentre, set up proactive website and provide contact details for their supply chain etc. Result: company is now running very successfully.
Assisted a young businesswoman launching new clothing product by putting her in touch with established local company, which is now employing her on a related project. She is now launching a website to extend these services to other companies. Just one of many startup companies that have been helped with business advice, finance or planning support.
Provided direct leads for an established Peterborough company to attract new businesses, increasing business growth and profitability.
Developed skills support and apprentice recruitment in a large, international company. Provided links to skills and apprentice advisers and outlined opportunities for staff development.
Provided direct advice to small graphic design company increasing business awareness and acumen to increase sales and profits.