· Contacts with the Business Community
The Director of Financial and Business Strategy will be discussing Harrow Council’s plans in terms of engagement with its business community, and explaining how the Council can work more effectively as a partner with the business community.
Presentation by the Director of Financial and Business Strategy
· Business Community Portal
The Business Community Manager will update local business representatives on the Business Community Portal – an exciting new development in Harrow that will enable businesses t engage and transact with Harrow Council and with each other.
Presentation by the Business Community Manager
· Visiting Harrow: London’s Newest Attraction
Harrow Council is launching an ambitious new tourism initiative to put Harrow firmly on the map – come and find out all about it.
Presentation by a Tourism Officer
Questions and Answers
· Members of the Business Community are invited to ask questions of the Members of the Council and officers present.
The meeting received three verbal presentations from officers of the Council.
Contacts with the Business Community
The meeting was provided with an overview of the Council’s relationship with its business community. Strategies and reviews to develop and improve this relationship were outlined, including:
· A mapping exercise to provide a comprehensive picture of businesses in Harrow;
· Developments in engagement and consultation, including the launch of the Harrow Business Consultative Panel and ongoing consultation in relation to the development of the business portal;
· Initiatives to support growth in the business sector, such as a review of the impact of Harrow’s new tourism strategy on business activity and an assessment of the need for a new incubator site;
· Monitoring best practice across other boroughs and joint working with the West London Alliance;
· The development of an detailed action plan for business engagement over the next 2-3 years.
Officers requested that business representatives provide advice to the meeting on how the Council should consult with them most effectively.
Harrow Business Community Portal
The meeting received an update on the Business Community Portal, ‘Smart Connections’, recently launched to encourage growth in the local business community. Officers navigated the links within the three main sections of the Business Portal (www.harrow.co.uk/business):
1. Business Services and Support – this section provided help, advice and guidance on business issues, including: information on business finance; commercial properties available to businesses; health and safety courses provided by the Council; and other relevant information.
2. Doing Business with Harrow Council – this section advertised the Council’s current procurement contracts, and allowed businesses to view contracts available for tender, receive pre-tender advice and view historical tenders. It was suggested that smaller businesses could use this section to identify larger organisations who had received contracts that could be approached for sub-contracting work.
3. Directory of Harrow Businesses – this section enabled businesses to register with the portal. Officers described it as providing an ‘extra shop window’ for businesses. It was added that business could register an interest in certain types of contracts, and receive update emails when a tender became available.
It was emphasised that the success of the portal would depend heavily on take-up amongst the business community. 4000 leaflets would be circulated to businesses to advertise the portal, and feedback would be encouraged to enable the site to be improved. The meeting was informed of the expected benefits of the portal on different segments of the business community. The success of the site would be ascertained through monitoring web data and survey results.
Visiting Harrow: London’s Newest Attraction
The Forum received a presentation on Harrow’s new tourism strategy. It was informed that the strategy was particularly important to Harrow with regard to new and upcoming developments in the area, including:
· success in the Olympic bid;
· the completion of Wembley Stadium in 2006; and
· developments in transport links including the expansion of Heathrow Airport and the Channel Tunnel.
To ensure that Harrow’s local economy benefited from the developments, ‘putting Harrow on the map’ had become one of the Council’s key corporate priorities. The Council had plans to regenerate both the Town Centre and open spaces across the Borough. The key tourism strengths of the Borough were described, including:
· ‘village life’ in areas such as Pinner and Harrow on the Hill;
· heritage attractions including Bentley Priory, Grim’s Dyke Hotel, Headstone Manor and Harrow Museum;
· traditional events such as May Day festivities and diversity events such as Under One Sky and Harrow Arts Festival.
The Council’s tourism vision involved ‘putting Harrow on the map’ and increasing awareness of the Harrow brand. It was hoped that this would then create more civic pride, strengthen communities and achieve prosperity in the local community. Partnership working was considered crucial for the success of the strategy. Harrow Tourism Forum had been established to provide a Forum for stakeholders to meet quarterly and feedback on the strategy.
Four key areas were developed for long-term growth:
1. Market development – including developing the Harrow brand, conducting research using the new Economic Impact Model from the London Development Agency, using this information to target identified tourist markets and increasing press coverage.
2. Product development – increasing the range of visitor attractions and implementing a Tourist Information Centre.
3. Quality enhancement – to welcome and satisfy the visitor, by providing good quality accommodation, signage, visitor maps and maintaining the grounds of historical attractions.
4. Training and development – supporting local businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, by providing the required training and development needed to support tourism growth.
The meeting was informed of the Council’s achievements in 2005, including: launch of the tourism strategy; support from both the local and national press; increased activity in the town centre; and restoration work at heritage sites including Headstone Manor and Cannons Park.
With expanding transport links and the successful Olympic bid, it was anticipated that Harrow would greatly benefit from increased tourism, provided that the infrastructure was developed now through the tourism strategy.
Questions and Answers
Further to the presentations, the Forum received questions and comments from the business representatives, which were answered by officers and Members present.
A representative suggested that disabled access to Harrow on the Hill station was a big problem for people trying to access Harrow. The meeting was informed that improved access at Harrow on the Hill station was a current priority for London Underground.
A representative queried what funding could be provided to smaller businesses in Harrow, to allow them to compete against businesses in Brent and Ealing. Officers referred to the Business Portal, which contained a link to business funding opportunities available.
In response to a query, the meeting was informed that registration to the business portal was free of charge. Officers further advised that the Council did not operate an ‘approved list’ system for procurement contracts with the Council, and that all tenders were approved from scratch.
A major concern of representatives was that a lack of free car parking in Harrow limited access to local businesses. A representative suggested that Harrow could not compete with areas like Brent Cross, which provided free parking to its customers. A Member advised that the high car ownership in Harrow placed competing demands on the parking spaces available in the area. Although public transport was recommended as a viable alternative to cars, a representative believed that public transport prevented customers from browsing smaller shops in more remote areas. It was further suggested that public transport was inconvenient for local journeys. Making Harrow more accessible to vehicles was considered a high priority if Harrow was to improve tourism. It was suggested that a car park which provided free spaces for customers of the local shops would provide a solution. It was further recommended that car parking restrictions should be consistent within an area.
In response to queries about free parking in Harrow, the Chair informed the meeting that car parks in North Harrow and Wealdstone (including the Peel multi-storey car park) offered first hour free car parking, and that Kenton Road was pay and display with free off-street parking on Mayfield Avenue and Willowfield Avenue except between 11am and noon.
Although Members noted that the New Harrow Project was aiming to make Harrow ‘cleaner, greener and safer’, a representative was still critical of the level of cleanliness in Harrow’s streets and said that this would deter tourists.
A representative was interested to know how to exploit business opportunities created by the opening of Wembley Park Stadium. Officers stated that the Council was in talks with Brent to incorporate promotional marketing into brochures created by Brent, especially promoting accommodation in Harrow. The representative was advised to contact the Council for more specific opportunities relating to his business.
In addition, a representative submitted five written questions, and it was agreed that the Director of Financial and Business Strategy would arrange for written responses to be forwarded to the representative.
RESOLVED: That the above be noted.