Mike Ribbeck, Business Editor / email@example.com
IT has been one of the worst downturns in living memory but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
That is the view of Jan Ormondroyd – and she should be in a position to know. With a budget of £1.28 billion and around 16,400 staff to look after, Mrs Ormondroyd should be one of the most high profile members of Bristol’s business community.
But the post of chief executive of Bristol City Council does not carry the same kudos as heading up a big firm.
Bristol-based Imperial Tobacco is the only company in the city which can claim to be a bigger operation than the council – which is the eight largest local authority in the country and the biggest employer in the city by a country mile.
Despite her relatively low profile, the chief executive is at the heart of the plans being put into place to lead Bristol out of hard times.
And if people like Mrs Ormondroyd are right and the plans being put into place come into fruition – then the city is on track to become one of the most important economic centres in the UK when the recovery gets into full swing.
Mrs Ormondroyd said: “Bristol is a fantastic place and it is predicted to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
“I think if we are being honest we are looking at another two to three years before the recovery starts to kick in. But Bristol has been identified as one of the cities to watch over the next decade.
“It has real potential to grow economically. We are a knowledge intensive city with a fantastic creative, digital and media sector.
“We also have two great universities and a highly skilled workforce.
“You have to remember that Bristol adds more to the public purse than it takes out – there are not many major local authorities that can say that.”
She added: “We have to be ambitious. What we are talking about is pushing Bristol forward as a major European city. I honestly believe we have the opportunity to do that.
“There is real ambition here – you only have to look at the fact we were the first city in the country to be named a Green Capital.”
If all goes to plan the Enterprise Zone centred around Temple Meads will be at the heart of the recovery.
The city council and Mrs Ormondroyd have been the centre of the project which got the personal backing of David Cameron last week.
The Prime Minister came to Bristol to give his approval to the plans which have been drawn up by the Local Enterprise Partnership – made up of the unitary councils and local business leaders.
The plan is to entice businesses into the zone with the offer of relaxed planning laws, lower business rates and access to the latest super-fast broadband. The catch is no money is being made available from central government for the project. Instead all the investment will come from money raised against the future earnings from the Enterprise Zone.
But Mrs Ormondroyd is convinced that the zone will be a success. She said: “We have already have had a couple of calls from companies interested in coming to the zone. We are in discussions with people but it is still very early in the process – but there are companies who are interested.”
She added: “What was key for Bristol was the electrification of the main line to London. Business needs to have that access to London – it is a fantastic opportunity for us.
“That is why it made sense to have the Enterprise Zone based around Temple Meads. It is all about access”
The BBC has said it is looking at its Whiteladies Road headquarters, which according to the organisation is no longer fit for purpose. Several options are on the table but the Enterprise Zone could be a great fit.
The plane is for a centre for creative and media firms which would take in existing projects such as the Paintworks.
Mrs Ormondroyd added: “What we do know is that the BBC has said it is committed to Bristol.
“It would be a good fit if the organisation was to move into the Enterprise Zone but that is for the board of the BBC to decide.”
Over the next couple of months the local enterprise partnership will talk to businesses about what improvements they would like to see in the area.
The partnership’s predecessor – the South West Regional Development Agency – was axed by the Coalition Government amid accusations of wasting public money on schemes that never got off the ground.
One of the organisation’s lowest points was the decision to drop the plans for a new arena even though £20 million had already been invested in the land earmarked.
Mrs Ormondroyd said: “What I would like to see is a conference centre of some description. Everyone knows that Bristol lags behind other cities in terms of infrastructure.
“A conference centre would be good for the city. What we would need is a company that would be interested in coming to the city to and making the investment.
“The financial package would have to be right but it would be something that we would welcome.”
One of the key issues for the chief executive is transport and she sees the bendy bus – or the rapid transit system as the council prefer to call it – as vital for future growth.
The so-called bendy bus has come in for a lot of stick but the council says there is no other option.
She said: “A tram system is just too expensive, it is not going to happen – sadly other cities got in their first and we have had to look at other opportunities.
“We have put in a bid with the Government for the scheme and we should know by September if we have been successful. We have to make it clear that we are really drinking in the last chance saloon.
“The Government has made it clear that there is no large pot of money and there is no plan B in place. If we are successful with this bid then we will be taking a larger share of the pot that anyone else but this is the last round of funding that will be available for some time.”
Mrs Ormondroyd has been leading the council for three-and-a- half years and she has very much stamped her own style on the job.
The Yorkshire-born chief executive is obviously a people person and prefers not to lock herself away in her office.
She said: “I think this job is all about communication. It is about getting out there and meeting people and talking to them.”
But behind the easy-going exterior there is obviously a steely determination and a serious work ethic.
She is known for working 12-hour days when necessary and also admits to feeling guilty that she spent too much time at work when her children were younger.
One of the biggest challenges she faced was when she was as deputy chief executive in Hull. During her tenure the city suffered some of the worst flooding in its history and hundreds were left homeless.
She said: “I didn’t leave the office for seven weeks and we were working round the clock.
“I came into this job because I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. To do that you have to be committed to your job otherwise there is no point in making the effort in the first place.”
Mrs Ormondroyd said: “What we cannot forget in all of this is that there are communities in the city living in real deprivation and disadvantage. We have to make sure those communities are not forgotten and left behind. Everyone should have the chance to contribute and play a part in what promises to be a great future for the city.”