Provost, I would like to begin by thanking everyone for taking the trouble to come along here this morning for the launch of the Fife Economic Strategy.
Before moving onto the detail of the new strategy I would first like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a person who knows more about the Fife economy than anyone I have come across and who gives up his time and immense experience and knowledge to support all things Fife. Bill Taylor is here today and is known to most in this room for he has been at the heart of driving the Fife economy for more years than he cares to remember.
As many will know, Bill was Fife Councils corporate manager overseeing planning, economic development roads and transportation and was the key driver for many Fife projects including here on our doorstep the redevelopment of Rosyth following on from the demise of the Naval Base. Bill retired on Friday the 13th July 2001 and his achievements were rightly recognised at that time. But today we want to take the chance to say thank you in recognition that since retiring over 12 years ago Bill has worked tirelessly to support groups, companies indeed anyone who is working in Fifes interest.
I am very clear that if we are to succeed with this strategy then it will be through partnership and working together, business and industry, college and training providers, public sector bodies, the third sector, the private sector all working together. And one of the great gifts that Bill has given over all these years has been his ability to bring people together demonstrating that Fife works best when Fife works together. So Bill I would be grateful if you would come up and accept a small gift in recognition of the work you do in supporting Fife and its economy.
The launch of this strategy here today must be viewed as the start of an on-going discussion that will take place across Fife with all key stakeholders in the Fife economy and that, the question that will sit at the heart of that discussion will be, are we making a difference and where is the evidence.
For example, what difference did the last economic strategy make? For me the answer to that is not always clear.
Within Fife we also have a Council Plan, there is a Fife Community Plan and I assume that there will be many other plans within organisation represented here and strategic plans from partner public organisations not to mention the plethora of other plans that does exist within Fife Council.
And the questions I keep asking myself and have been asking myself over many years, is what difference does all these plans make.
I would like to suggest today that the main strategic plan that we need to work to is Fifes Community Plan. On improving the economy the plans states that we must meet the challenges in Fife by;
Investing in those sectors of the economy with long term sustainability, where Fife has an advantage and which will bring jobs to Fife, notably renewable energy and tourism.
We must create more dynamic businesses across Fife.
Enable people to find employment and to become economically active.
And, Provide a flexible business infrastructure and responsive services to make Fife the easiest place to do business.
I am a great believer that actions speak louder than words – for example it is very easy to say that Fife should be the easiest place to do business but what does that mean and indeed if it is not the experience of people trying to do business in Fife then it is meaningless. There are examples such as Amazon where Fife can be held up as a good example of best practice in providing a seamless service to achieve the outcomes that were needed to make that project happen, but it is a fact that over 90% of Fife businesses employ less than 50 people and therefore we need to ensure we are able to deliver for every business to the level we were for Amazon.
In Fife we have a lower business start-up rate than in most parts of Scotland and addressing this is a goal of the strategy.
But to be clear large businesses are still crucial for the Fife economy as they account for almost two thirds of Fifes business turnover, so we need to do more to attract more inward investment into Fife, but we also need to do more to work with the very successful companies we have in Fife both in terms of developing the supply chain and using their expertise to deliver our wider objectives.
I visited Rosyth Dockyard just a few weeks ago and heard how Babcock see the future at Rosyth and I would have to say it was one of the most pleasant days I have had in a long time. To see what is being achieved not just in terms of the largest single site engineering project in Europe but also the amount of companies located on the site and to hear about the projections for the future, I believe you can say with confidence – the future is bright for Rosyth and therefore Fife.
And that future is very much focussed on the energy sector as set out in the community and economic plans. In Rosyth, and along the Fife coast there is rightly optimism for this sector not just for the big companies like Babcock, Samsung and BIFAB but also for the supply chain that is here and that will come.
But I do say to you – having the jobs is not itself the final destination.
We know that in this sector and indeed in many other areas of the Fife economy Fife companies are having to look well beyond Fife and well beyond Scotland and indeed well beyond the UK to find the workers with the skills they need. And that cannot be right when we have people locally with the will to work but not the skills which are needed locally. Indeed, if you look right across Fife’s Community Plan the key to tackling so many of the issues which are identified is good paid jobs. And the key to delivering those jobs is a highly trained, well-skilled and motivated workforce.
And that is why I am delighted that we have with us this morning Fife’s Director of Education, Ken Greer and the new Principal of Fife College, Hugh Logan.
I am aware that some people have raised concerns over the last year about the merger of the colleges in Fife, but I have to say I see the merger as a real opportunity for Fife. It’s an opportunity to take a fresh look at the way we are developing skills and training. We must be able to do better. I believe the success of the new Fife College should be measured in terms of the success of the Fife economy and the health of the Fife jobs market. There is no better investment than the investment in the futures of our workforce and that’s about education: education at school, education in College and education in the workplace. We all of us in this room have the opportunity, indeed, we have the responsibility to make that investment in education.
I think we can do better and I see a new energy and a new enthusiasm both in our schools and in Fife College to get on to this agenda. I am pleased to report today that discussions are on-going between the council and the college around developing much closer links between our schools and Fife’s college. What we all want is a more integrated approach to skills and education to include a school curriculum that sees schools and further education in Fife working as one creating improved vocational pathways for school pupils.
We know that the economy of the future is one that will require a highly skilled and motivated workforce and therefore we need to take the steps now to ensure that vocational education sits alongside academic education so that young people can access industry relevant qualification that prepares them for the world of work. In Fife I want to see a new kind of equality where parity of esteem for the academic and vocational routes is our common currency.
Both Fife Council and Fife College are discussing this issue with the Scottish Government and we would hope to be in a position in the near future to announce specific radical and innovative proposals to drive this exciting agenda forward.
And that programme must also have employers absolutely at its heart so that we work in a true partnership driving an ambitious education and skills agenda for Fife. That is why I am also pleased that the council and college are in talks with Babcock with a view to developing a project that will bring partners together to work with our schools and to raise our young people’s awareness of the opportunities that are available locally in the engineering sector and across all the sectors of the Fife economy.
But as well as doing more to support the workforce of the future we also need to take action now to support the many people who are currently struggling to make progress into the world of work. Last year we took a decision as a council to focus on youth employment. Fife had seen a 48% increase in the numbers of people between the age of 18 and 24 claiming jobseekers allowance since 2005. We appointed a specific post within the council, an Ambassador for Youth Employment to drive an agenda forward that would see more direct action to support young people into skills and jobs. We also put in place a five million budget to work with employers to support people into training, apprenticeships and work.
Councillor Tony Martin who is here today has been heading this work up as the councils ambassador for youth employment. I know many of you will have already met Tony in his new role and if he has not been to meet you he certainly will be as he drums up support for this work. Already we have a good new story to tell with 300 young people getting into work through the Fife Youth Contract, 133 employers involved with a further 69 having registering an interest, 184 apprenticeships and 116 completed initial training and are now with an employer.
And as an employer itself Fife Council also agreed a one million pound per year new investment which has seen us create an additional 71 training places on top of the 145 apprentice places we have within the council. So we are making progress and will review ever part of this activity and build on it as we move forward.
And today we are asking that employers spread the word that we will support any employer in Fife to take on an apprentice and in particular we want to get that message out there to the small companies particularly those who only employ a few people and who find the thought of having an apprentice daunting, get in touch and we will provide both advice and financial support. This is our message to employers.
As I said earlier in launching this strategy I am keen to focus on where it sits within the wider community plan and that we recognise our social ambitions for Fife can be achieved through a successful local economy and that those social ambitions can also drive economic regeneration. For example, we have a housing crisis in Fife with over 12,000 people on a waiting or transfer list with over 2,500 suffering or threatened with homelessness. And yet we have building workers out of work.
That is why Fife Council working with tenants across Fife has agreed to invested a further £85 million into building new houses and has now identified provision for 2,306 new affordable homes over this five year period, a thousand more affordable homes for rent than was built in the last five years and taking us closer to the ambition goal of 2700 homes for rent in five years.
The council has also agreed to build three new care villages with the £7.5 million Kirkcaldy project starting later this month to be followed with one in Cowdenbeath and in Glenrothes. Proposals are also in the process of gaining planning approval for a new high school in St Andrews, in Levenmouth and in Kirkcaldy. All of these investments will mean more work for Fife companies, more jobs and I hope more skills and training opportunities for Fife youngsters.
We have made progress on making the procurement system within the council work for Fife but there is more we need to do. Likewise we are moving albeit slowly in making the planning system work for Fife rather than the planning system dictating the agenda as has been the experience of the past. We are also focusing to make sure that all our systems are joined up and working with business, for business and for a more dynamic approach to economic development in Fife.
Fife Council executive member for business Lesley Laird has been in the job a few months and is driving a can do and joined up approach to all council activity around the economy of Fife and is in charge of making sure that this strategy is being delivered and more important there is evidenced through regular reviews and report backs. She wants to do this in partnership with all stakeholders in the Fife economy.
She is also driving a new approach to working on areas like town centres, tourism and health and wellbeing which are all key to this strategy but also key to the community plan for Fife.
On town centres we are seeing a real difference in the large towns through investment in major facilities but also through partnership working with the BIDs companies and all key stakeholders.
The million pound investment in Dunfermline last year is making a visible difference whether that is the new digital signage and wifi investment, the investment in Christmas lights and this weekend the big switch on lighting up the historical buildings across the city centre, or the new exciting arts centre through to the promotion campaigns paying dividends, these are all projects done in partnership with the town centre traders making a big difference.
We also introduced a £500,000 town centre budget to bring about improvements to the smaller town centres and again this has proven to be a major success, so much so it is our intention to expand that programme through new investment in this year’s budget including a £1 million investment for Kirkcaldy town centre based on the investment success of the Dunfermline project.
All of these activities will enhance the Fife offer when it comes to tourism and here again we have a sector that is key for the Fife economy and in the coming months we will be bringing forward more detailed proposals for growing tourism across Fife in partnership with the key stakeholders. Fife is now a top destination for outdoor activity and we are working with the Coast and Countryside Trust to both enhance that offer but also to ensure that Fife businesses can take advantage of the opportunities that hundreds of thousands of visitors can bring.
Can I say I am also delighted that Bill Fletcher from the Alhambra Theatre is able to join us this morning. The Alhambra story is one of struggle and success putting Dunfermline firmly on the map as a centre for arts and theatre and I am pleased we are now working to support this economic driver for Dunfermline and we will be announcing more detail in the coming months.
We have also seen the opening of new sport and leisure facilities in Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy enhancing the great facilities across Fife. This is good for tourism but it is also good for driving a key part of the community plan which is health and wellbeing of the Fife population. The sport and leisure trust are dynamic in their approach to this agenda and I am pleased that we are now making progress with other partners and sports groups across Fife to drive this agenda.
We have with us today the representatives of Football Clubs in Fife and again I am pleased that we are progressing discussions with the clubs with a view to establishing a football community academy servicing west and central Fife pulling on the expertise and coaching skills within the clubs and using this to drive sport across the kingdom.
So my message today is that by working together and pulling on all the resources we have in Fife we can make a difference building a strong Fife now and into the future for all Fifers.
I hope you will all work with us on this strategy and spread the message that Fife is open for business