Shoreditch and Cambridge are well-known entrepreneurial hotspots in the UK. But former mill town Burnley could be emerging as a surprise competitor. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has named Burnley as Britain’s most enterprising town, praising Burnley’s Bondholders scheme in particular.
Introduced three years ago, the scheme has brought together more than 100 local firms to promote the town as a place for business and has attracted £10m of investment to the area. The group has successfully campaigned for a new rail link to Manchester, estimated to boost the local economy by £8m a year, and has pushed for the opening of an aerospace ‘supply village’ in a former Michelin Tyre factory.
‘The Burnley Bondholders scheme is reinvigorating the local economy and helping to change perceptions of Burnley’, Business and Enterprise Minister Michael Fallon said. ‘Initiatives like this are working hard to boost growth and thoroughly deserve recognition.’
Burnley's award was one of four categories in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Enterprising Britain Awards. Other winners included the Premier League, which picked up the prize for Promoting Enterprise, London’s Hackney Council for the Promoting Exports section and Aberdeen College for Community Enterprise.
Dave Jones, the MD of Burnley-based window manufacturers VEKA UK Group, says Burnley’s success is mainly due to local support. ‘The Burnley people are really engaging - they want to succeed. There’s been so much negativity about Burnley’s prospects in the press, it’s great we’ve finally got some positive news.’
VEKA Group, which employs 325 people in Burnley, is a founder member of the Burnley Bondholders scheme and Dave Jones says it was set up to improve the image of the area: ‘I think we’ve turned a corner now. The bondholder is attracting new businesses to the area, and there are some big industries based here. Prince Charles and Vince Cable have even visited recently to praise our manufacturing push.’
Burnley council chiefs say the town is bucking the trend for weak economic growth. Earlier this year, data firm Experian placed Burnley 10th in the country for private sector growth, and amongst the best town in the North West for high-growth firms.
‘Burnley is well on its way to forging a strong international reputation as a centre of excellence for manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace industry,’ leader of Burnley Council Julie Cooper said.
The government is championing SMEs as a way to boost UK economic growth and help cut unemployment. Small businesses account for over 59% of the total private sector workforce in the UK, employing some 14 million people with a combined turnover of £1.5 billion.