Introduction and history
As a voluntary partnership of councils and local enterprise partnerships, England’s Economic Heartland represents the key growth corridor from Oxfordshire through Milton Keynes and across to Cambridgeshire. We have a wide range of commerce and industry, but particularly in the field of science and technologic innovation.
Our three and a half million population and 175,000 business together generate around £92.5 billion GVA. We see ourselves as a 21st century economy, particularly rich in high value engineering, science, technology and research. Most of our firms are small or medium sized enterprise with many based in rural or semi-rural areas.
Overall, our economy is successful and we’re a net contributor to the exchequer. But, we have the capacity to deliver more, up to £20 billion more, if we can secure the right investments going forward. This is good for us, but it’s also great for the country in providing much needed prosperity and to develop the UK’s global competitiveness.
While geographically, the Heartland area forms a gateway from London and the South East to the Midlands and beyond, our ‘Achilles Heel’ is our current options for travelling east to west across our area – they are simply outdated and are hampering our growth potential. The government recognise this and see the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford arc as a future growth corridor.
We believe that investing in successful economies is as important as revitalising others. Alongside other areas like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midland’s Engine, England’s Economic Heartland is ready to play its role to help the UK as a whole develop an economy that works for everyone.
The original Heartland Alliance grouping launched in December 2014, but has rapidly expanded since then to include all Councils with transport responsibilities from Oxfordshire across to Cambridgeshire and representatives from all relevant local enterprise partnerships. The membership directly reflects the Government’s recognition that the Oxford to Cambridge growth corridor will be critical to the UK’s economy going forward. In December 2015, a Strategic Transport Forum was introduced, which meets in public and also includes representatives from Government, other agencies and transport contractors and providers.
Heartlands Area description
The Heartland comprises a single, high productivity, knowledge-intensive cluster stretching from Oxfordshire in the west across to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in the east.
The Heartland’s key specialisms are in advanced manufacture of computer, electronic and optical products; computer programming, consultancy and related activities; architectural and engineering activities, including technical testing and analysis; and scientific research and development, including life sciences and pharmaceuticals. Knowledge employment is concentrated in Cambridge and Oxford and large research business parks in their urban periphery/rural hinterland such as Oxford Science Vale, Granta Park, and the Cambridge Science Park. Other smaller clusters are dispersed throughout the Heartland.
Throughout the area 11.1% of the workforce are employed in ‘knowledge’ jobs, above the national average of 9.6%. This rises in South Cambridgeshire to 29.6%, Vale of the White Horse (22.2%), South Oxfordshire (21.8%), Cambridge (18.9%), Wycombe (14.8%), and Daventry (14.0%). Many of the areas within the corridor have some of the highest levels of productivity per worker outside of London.
The Heartland boasts many historic market towns and cities and a positive track record of creating places and environments where people want to live and work. Several of these towns and cities have cultural and retail offerings of national significance, and have high quality schools with ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ OfSTED ratings. Many towns and cities have attractive rural hinterlands and a number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty sit within the corridor including The Cotswolds, North Wessex Downs, the Chilterns and the Fens.
There’s a strong focus on developing, and maintaining the quality of life across the Heartland area. This includes improving access to health to leisure facilities, public open spaces and the rural areas. It is vital that such initiatives remain a focus, ensuring that there is balance between growth and life and leisure quality. Some parts of the area, such as Aylesbury, Bicester, Bedford and North Northamptonshire have put forward proposals for garden towns and communities.
Across the Heartland, 32% of all residents between 16 and 64 year of age have a Level 4 or above qualification, compared to an average of 30% for England and Wales. In Cambridge, Oxford, Chiltern, South Cambridgeshire, South Buckinghamshire and Vale of the White Horse it is between 40% and 50%. This shows a clustering of highly skilled workforce across the corridor, typically in areas of very high quality of life with good connectivity to London and/or in areas of high productivity, knowledge‐led jobs.
However the key concern of our top businesses is access to skilled labour. Collectively, we have problems of a skills mismatch, skills retention from our world‐class Higher Education Institutions and some low quality schools and colleges teaching. As many locations reach near full employment, this compounds the difficulty local businesses have in finding and attracting skilled labour. The lack of affordable housing in many parts of the area can lead to longer commuting journeys.