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Members are at the heart of the recovery

20 August 2020: Julian Daly is Deputy President of Beds, Bucks and Herts (BBH) and Finance Director of OLIM Property which manages some £1bn of commercial property portfolios for institutional clients. He says ICAEW members have a vital role to play in the recovery as they are the eyes and ears of business.

To add to his list of credentials, Daly is also a former board member of the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (Herts LEP), was Leader of St Albans Council and is still a St Albans Councillor. He is all about connecting local world-class institutions with industry, and with national networks. He also believes chartered accountants are an untapped source of business knowledge that can engender recovery.

He has had the LEPs on his radar since they were launched under David Cameron’s administration. At that time, he was leading St Albans Council. Daly saw all the benefits of the LEPs, but was curious about what they were actually delivering. At that time, few businesses and leaders in local government were familiar with the LEP strategy.

Daly, in his role as Councillor, started to link up local centres of excellence. In this case, he introduced the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the leading centre of building science, to Rothamsted Research, a world-class agricultural research institution, and the University of Hertfordshire. All of which focus heavily on sustainability in their work, yet their worlds had never really collided.

Energised by what he perceived was a gap in local strategy, the next step was for Daly to put himself forward to be one of the political representatives on the LEP Board with a view to raising the profile of the intellectual property being created within Hertfordshire.

Commercial success at OLIM Property prompted him to step down from his leadership role at the Council and then the LEP in 2017. However, Daly clearly remains very close to the local economy and the expertise upon which recovery will no doubt be built.

He points out that, in the post-war years, Hertfordshire was not planned around a central city; instead there is a network of medium-sized towns, deliberately spread around the county, all with their own flavour, knowledge-base and future potential. However, many of them are flagging and are crying out for regeneration. Happily, he characterises Hertfordshire as being adept at blending local bureaucracies with business…there is plenty of scope for putting this skillset to use on the Hertfordshire townscape.

It is not just the towns that are dispersed; so too is the county’s intellectual property. “One of the things that came out of the process of creating the LEP was the recognition that spread across the county, but not joined up, was a mass of intellectual property,” he says. “Joining up green technologies in particular will help us with the recovery.”

So, what are Hertfordshire’s strengths, talents and economic engines? Pharma, life sciences and agri-tech are clear to see. There is satellite and instrument technology, even though the aerospace industry itself has faded. There is building research with all its intellectual property as well as significant construction activity. And there are the creative industries, especially, film, animation and their support industries.

The LEP allowed all of this to be aggregated so that there could be an analysis of the needs of these industries to understand whether Hertfordshire was producing its own pipeline of talent to take them forward. The challenge has been to get business to voice their future workforce needs too and make sure the local universities and further education colleges can meet that need, he adds.

Returning to BRE and Rothamsted, Daly points out that these are world-class organisations that the county and even the country have been shy about promoting. They are certainly hugely respected in high-growth countries like China and Brazil who look to Hertfordshire expertise to grow and green their economies. “They will certainly be intrinsic to the recovery,” he points out.

Joining it all up is vital, he says, not only to channel funding, but also to solving problems and taking technology to the next level to aid recovery.

Putting his role locally to one side, he puts on his chartered accountant’s hat and speaks emphatically about the role of the accountant in feeding real examples of businesses and sectors – that are in pain because of the virus – to government and suggesting potential solutions.

“We don’t do enough of that at a regional level,” Daly says. “We have huge insight as to what goes on in the local economy and we should use it.” This is especially valuable where local accountants have the ear of the appropriate Ministers.

Accountants and indeed lawyers have a composite view of their region. “The answers to what we need to do to recover from COVID-19 will probably be there in the minds of the membership,” says Daly. “They will see large numbers of businesses and they will have insight into what is needed for the rebuild.”