Leader Views


Posted on:
29th July, 2019

"Our USP needs to be both true to our character and show our distinct competitive advantages."

Dr Simon Cripps is Chair of the Dorset Local Nature Partnership and Chief Executive of Dorset Wildlife Trust. Here, he describes what the unique local strengths of Dorset are, and exactly what its USP is.

"Our USP needs to be both true to our character and show our distinct competitive advantages."

"Dorset isn’t Swindon.  Nor is it a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.  That ship sailed back at the start of the industrial revolution, and thank goodness it did.  It gave us a far wider range of opportunities to create wealth and businesses for the longer term whilst retaining our amazing natural environment.

Dorset is at the very forefront of modern business development that doesn’t require subsidies merely to survive.  In this day-and-age the world and our country is a highly competitive environment.  To obtain grants from government, to prosper in the market and to maintain productivity with new technology and HR advances, we have to find our niche – our unique selling proposition (USP).  Our USP needs to be both true to our character and show our distinct competitive advantages.

So what is Dorset’s USP?  To answer that we need first to look at our assets and experience rather than specific sectors.  The latter will follow on from the former.  We have a loyal, skilled workforce, well-established businesses, and an ability to attract good staff, companies and entrepreneurs – all of which have the potential to boost productivity.  Much of that is based on our single biggest asset – the natural environment, on land and at sea.  It is our natural environment upon which our health, wellbeing, wealth and increased productivity is built.

There are many sectors for which Dorset is known that depend directly on a natural, healthy environment.  These include tourism, health & wellbeing, age care, farming, fishing, maritime transport, mineral extraction, housing development, and sports & recreation.  The list goes on.  These are huge, productive sectors and they are big in Dorset.  In fact a Dorset County Council (as was) report1 showed that the environmental economy was worth about £1.5bn of GVA and 30,000 jobs in Dorset.

Then there’s every other sector, all of which are at least indirectly dependant to a greater or lesser degree on Dorset’s fabulous environment, from estate agents and lawyers through to builders and aerospace.  As Dorset Council says: “Dorset – the natural place to do business”.

Whichever business focus underpins our Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) being developed by Dorset LEP, support for the environment within that focus will give Dorset a competitive edge, will increase productivity as described above, and assist in achieving longer-term benefits whilst minimising negative impacts.  Our environment is then both an important USP and a means of ensuring business developments are far more likely to be successful.

As a Dorset boy I have lived through the ups and downs of business development over the years.  Some of the inappropriate building and infrastructure of the 1970s for example still haunt us.  It is vital that if development agencies and local authorities are to deliver a genuinely beneficial service to our business community then we must think long-term.  That can be hard if grants are available from politicians with their eyes focussed no further than the next election, but we locally need to have ambition beyond that – and also consider other means of investment.

As an example of longer term thinking, we live in an increasingly technological world, and are also looking to cut carbon emissions.  Through policy, innovation and necessity, we must and will, for example, move towards further digital connectivity, electric vehicles and reduced single use materials.   We therefore need transport systems that take this future into account rather than looking at our current addiction to motor vehicles, fossil fuels and delivery of more and more consumer items.

Sustainability is a much overused word, but within a LIS, maintaining and growing the asset base on which we derive our future prosperity will ensure that gains in productivity and wealth will be sustained in the longer term.  This is where natural, and indeed social, capital comes in.  The concept of natural capital allows us to budget for the asset base just as we do for investment capital in a project. 

The government has given all of the LEPs a very clear steer that their LISs need to include an assessment of natural capital.  The first LISs to be produced have natural capital strategies not dissimilar to the Natural Capital Investment Strategy2 produced by the LNP two years ago.  The Dorset LIS gives us an opportunity to explain how the industrial development proposed will build the natural capital of our county, so ensuring the health and wellbeing of our communities, the health of the habitats and species, and the health and productivity of Dorset’s businesses.

Further, government at the highest level requires that development will have a ‘net gain’ for the natural environment.  Every single funded project needs to ensure that natural capital whatever that is, whether it is areas of land, drinking water production, pollinators, community parkland, trees, or flood prevention, etc., must be increased.  Why should a project benefit from, or deplete, resources that belong to, or are vital for, the wider community?  The greater that net gain in natural capital, the greater the chances of successful future development and productivity increases will be.  This is basic common business sense not extremist environmentalism.  The Dorset LIS can be a threat to our health and economy, or a force for long-term good.  On our shift I want people to look back at our work today and be grateful that we started to build a sustained and sustainable future, not as we now look back at the concrete 60s and 70s.

A final plea is that the LIS doesn’t just go for the shiny new things.  It is true that Dorset has several emerging sectors which we can have a lead on, but we also have more traditional sectors such as agriculture that with some refocussing and appropriate new technology can give us a competitive edge and greatly increased productivity.  Farming and rural enterprises need support to ensure they work with nature rather than fight against it, thus building the natural capital on which to sustain an even more productive and sensitive industry to compete in the market.

My message then is to focus on what we are good at, to maintain the assets on which our wealth and productivity will depend, and to think longer-term so that the benefits of our decisions today can be built on in the future."

1 https://dorsetlnp.org.uk/a-natural-capital-investment-strategy-for-dorset/ 

2  https://dorsetlnp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Dorset-Environmental-Economy-2015.pdf

Breaking news


All News


All Events