Middlesex University is located right in the heart of the London Borough of Barnet, and together the academic institution and the council are working in partnership to understand and develop the needs of the local economy.
Leading the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR), Professor Stephen Syrett has worked on local and regional economic development and as part of his research agenda has liaised very closely with policy makers in local and regional authorities as well as with national government. In 2012, he and the CEEDR team were commissioned by the borough to research the enterprise dynamics of the Barnet economy.
"They were looking to develop an economic development strategy and asked us to provide a better understanding of what was going on in the Barnet economy, to understand the needs of the businesses and what type of support those businesses need. They wanted us to identify key measures and indicators so that they could trace over time how the local economy was changing," explains Professor Syrett.
"We discovered that Barnet has a very dynamic economy with a high rate of business formation. However, there's quite a high death rate of businesses too, a lot of 'churn' in the business stock. This reflects that the vast majority of businesses are small and that they operate in highly competitive service sectors, such as retailing, where it is relatively easy to set up a business but where the failure rate is high."
The research uncovered only limited support for businesses and so the team advised the council that they needed to develop a much closer engagement and to be talking to them on a more regular basis. "They are receptive to the idea," says Professor Syrett. "They have commissioned us to develop an economic development strategy to take forward our thinking. We will be gaining views of stakeholders across the economy. A major part of this is setting out the various options for what type of economic strategy the borough might implement, from light-touch measures through to more substantive interventions."
Professor Syrett is also focussing on the boom in home-based businesses – an area where there is a known but so far unquantifiable growth because of the largely hidden nature of such working. The CEEDR team will bring together academic researchers, policy makers and home business people in a series of seminars to get a clearer grasp of what these businesses are, who is running them and what their needs are. Understanding this will be valuable to developing an important growth area in the future.
In terms of the impact of his work, Professor Syrett is pleased: "Barnet is using the report that we produced to help develop their strategy for new thinking. It wants to be a borough of economic growth that benefits all its residents, which is a change of direction for Barnet. We know we have played our part in this change."