GM Business Connect are keen to work with many organisations supporting business engagement and Trafford Borough Council have always been exceptional in their support of businesses both within the area and those looking to move there. We have partnered with Trafford’s Strategic Growth Team over many years on a variety of different events, and are currently supporting the regular Trafford Park Business Network run by the team plus the GM Chamber. We caught up with Councillor Andrew Western at Trafford Town Hall and asked him to share some insight on current thinking by Trafford Council on business support and engagement in the borough:
Why should businesses move to the Trafford area?
“Not taking into account the support that councils can offer in the form of town centre loan schemes and other such incentives, it’s about connectivity, It’s about the success local businesses have had here, so close to both City Centre Manchester and Manchester Airport. We also enjoy great digital connectivity, and have a very highly skilled workforce here including the best educated people in Greater Manchester. As a result of this I think access to skills is a huge bonus for potential employers too.”
I know you are involved with lots of businesses in Trafford Park but are you engaged with enough businesses there?
“The honest answer to that is ‘no’. It is an isolated area. There are business breakfast events and other ways of engaging with businesses there but it is a huge, huge area with 30,000 people going to work there every day. Although we can’t know every business personally, we want to ensure those strong relationships are there, where possible, and it is our role as a Council to be available for businesses to access our help and support.
“Trafford is a huge place and has many different hubs where business growth is happening and we are keen to engage with all those areas. Getting round the table together and establishing crucial working relationships with businesses is so important to the borough, and that’s why the work of the Economic Growth Team is so important.”
Tell us a bit more about the Economic Growth Team and how they engage with business?
“I think that they are a fantastic team – from top to bottom. We have been growing the team and have recently placed a graduate in there on a local government training scheme who has done really well. The team work very hard building relationships right across the borough, not just in Trafford Park, and we’ve got people like Steven James who are making a real difference in terms of the way that Trafford encourage business and ultimately grow as a crucial part of Greater Manchester.
“One of the things they do primarily is to promote the town centre loan scheme. This supports businesses with training or marketing development needs but also particularly to deal with the issue of town centre vacancies where we offer up to £20,000 for businesses who are looking to get off the ground and are willing to fill vacant units. The interest rate on the scheme is extremely competitive as we see an opportunity to drive growth and prosperity through the development of small businesses and start-ups that would be looking to take a next step from working at home. What the team do is absolutely amazing and that project alone has leveraged in over a million pounds worth of private investment to Trafford in the past 5 years, equating to about 118 jobs. So it’s really important – not just in terms of the positive perception that residents have of our town centres but because of the jobs and economic growth created in the areas as well.”
What sort of businesses take up the scheme – are they mainly retail based?
“Not necessarily, although with the vacant units it is often the case for retail or food and beverage businesses as they are very forward facing directly to passing trade. We provide up to £20,000 on the vacant unit scheme and up to £5,000 for marketing and promotion requirements, and up to £1,000 for specific training and development needs. It’s quite wide ranging, and it means that businesses can have a holistic offer including online and social media needs, enabling them to compete with neighbouring businesses and also particularly in an age of social media stand out in a much wider area.”
How much money has been allocated to repairing potholes in Trafford. Do you have a target to reach?
“There are set criteria as to what is designated a pothole. Something like ‘anything over 40 millimetres constitutes a pothole. One of my greatest frustrations is situations where something is described as ‘not an actionable pothole’ e.g. because it is a pothole on a pothole! The total funding that is going in between April last year and 2022 is around £30m.
“We all know it’s a major bugbear for everyone – residents and businesses alike. It also has an effect on visitor experience coming in and out of the borough, and I think it’s right that we are investing this sum. There has been some significant work done in recent years such as the A56. There were some terrible potholes, and actual disintegration of the road through Carrington on the A6144. When I came in to office I applied some contingency funding for that particular route, as well as intervening to sort further problems on the A6144 through Warburton. Where there has been some flexibility, I’ve been able to address issues that had yet to be allocated. One of the main ones at the minute is the far end of Norris Road and we will look again to contingency funding to get this done this financial year. There are still problems but with the help of this extra funding over the next 3 years we will be able to manage the problems better.”
If anyone still hasn’t applied for assistance with their business rates, who should they get help from?
“If businesses need help with their rates and need guidance as to what is available, also, generally to see what else is available to help their businesses grow, the Economic Growth Team have access to the latest information and support routes – including assistance with business rates.”
Do you see Brexit affecting Trafford?
“Oh yes. The situation as we are looking at it means that there is no way that any Brexit deal can be good for Greater Manchester’s economy. Given Trafford’s contribution (and thinking of the size of some of the businesses operating in Trafford Park), including European and Global firms based here too, we have to be really concerned for what the future looks like for them. This current deal is not something I would support, it shows a contraction of about £0.4 billion pounds in the economy, no-deal could be up toward £10 billion. Even looking at the lower figure, it means that there would be no growth in Greater Manchester for 15 years. If we set that against our ambitions as a city region on digital, on the Greater Manchester Spacial Framework, transport and so on, there is a real risk to what we are trying to achieve with a policy that can only make us poorer.”
Looking at Transport, is there still talk of an ‘orbital’ of trams around Greater Manchester?
“I like to call it the ‘spider flow’ but I’m in favour of this. I worked on the metrolink network and I personally think it’s a great service. It can be expensive but when you look at what’s going on with the train systems (Northern Rail and Trans Pennine) at the moment the metrolink is one of the more reliable public transport systems for residents and workers.
“I’d like to see for instance, a link from Altrincham to the airport. It is ridiculous that you have to go to Cornbrook or Trafford Bar to change to get airport links. It’s not a quick service. There is a real opportunity by linking Stretford and the Trafford Centre via Urmston – there is a big gap in provision at the moment. Also, that new line out to Trafford Centre and Trafford Park may mean we can take the line out to Carrington and Partington; Carrington where we have so much growth earmarked for the next few years and of course Partington, which is currently a really isolated community and we want the residents there to feel they can access these employment opportunities.
“So I’d like to see an orbital route. There are still patches in Greater Manchester that don’t have any trams at the moment – Bolton, Wigan, Stockport – and when you think of the proximity especially from Stockport to the city centre, it’s crazy there are no links. I’d like to see the grid system similar to the way the underground works but also being slightly parochial about it, I’d like to see a long term way of accessing the airport that allows people to get there without going through the city centre, which is counterproductive and only forces people in to cars and taxis and is ultimately bad for the environment.”