Posted on

Changes to the High Street

2018 has been marked by news of store closures on the high street.  So what is to be done?


Do we really need all shops to be able to offer the convenience of online? Is it really feasible for high streets shops to compete with the nimble offers available online?

As consumers we have a role here.   To pretend that we are going to give up the convenience of online for the High Street, maybe seen as naive.   Instead perhaps we need to see this issue through a different lens.  Perhaps we need to put a value on the high street.  The different people; sounds; colours; even the physical activity of walking around in a usually fairly safe area.  This all has a value.  Currently we choose not to measure that value, or at least measure it in way that commands attention. Somehow the social return on investment type valuations, don’t really make good headlines.  Whereas that the latest news about shops closing and empty high streets do make powerful images.

Perhaps there is too much nostalgia about the high street.  For many people born before the Internet, shopping on the high street is bound up with memories and half forgotten adventures.   No wonder so many people feel sad that their high street is changing.

So what is the future of the high street?  We have become used to the easy quick fix of Internet shopping.   This makes any plea to go out and “buy local” at best only a partial solution.  We are not going to give up the convenience and ease of shopping on the Internet.  Maybe the future of the high street isn’t primarily around selling us stuff.

Maybe the future of the high street lies around its ability to offer different experiences that we can’t get elsewhere.  Several Town Centres are starting to embrace this new role by bringing into the town centre, different activities, which bring people together.  For instance during the school half term Stevenage in Hertfordshire had a giant darts activity and inflatable rides in the town centre.  Local authorities have an important role in the town centre.   For local authorities, arguably the most important role they have is in terms of leadership.   Specifically what many high streets lack is a vision and the the long term drive to make that vision happen.

Posted on

Winning and losing

Is “winning” always a good thing? Here we discuss the benefits of failure.

We’ve been having a discussion about ‘winning” and “not winning”. What does it look like in your business, school or community?   How do you respond when things don’t quite work out.

Sometimes it is not about competition – for some public sector organisations “not winning” maybe a downgrade in the audit or not achieving key goals.  For the last five years schools in Welwyn Hatfield compete in the Welwyn Hatfield Dragons Apprentice Challenge.   This year there was a prize for the overall winner.  The winning team didn’t raise most money from fundraising.  Neither did they have the best prepared presentation. It was the grit and determination of the team to succeed – at times in spite of the School hierarchy – that convinced the judges.

In a very real sense all of the teams that took part won.   Our latest video, shows some of the lessons that the young people took from their involvement with the Welwyn Hatfield Dragons Apprentice Challenge.

The message from our business judges was that in business, winning and losing are regular occurrences and cannot be disguised from the future workforce. Here at Red Potato we’ve had more than our share of failures, which have at times translated into costly financial losses and more importantly repetitional damage. Those failures were not comfortable but they have become deeply seared into the organisation. We have learnt from those failures to improve processes and procedures so the mistakes are not repeated. That is the very uncomfortable truth about failure: it can be a very powerful force that drives you to improve. Maybe Young People need to fail more in order to find their real success.

Posted on

Three ways economic development can help business today


What are the three ways economic development can help business today?

Collecting the bins and planning are statutory functions at most local authorities in England, economic development  (ED) function is not a statutory function.  So it is right that we ask what is the value of economic development and what contribution does it make to business growth.

This article sets out the three ways economic development can help business today.   So here we go, we hope this article contributes to the discussion about what local government can do to boost business.

  1. Bring together local agencies
    Economic development should have a focus on bringing growth and investment to the area.   As an economic development professional your role is to stay focussed on this.  In England local authorities cannot set the tone and direction for economic development by themselves.  Economic development has a collaborative attitude which recognises the uniqueness and value that other organisations can bring.  Economic growth comes through collaboration.   Central government, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Councils, Chambers of Commerce all have a part to play.   Success will only come from these agencies collaborate.

  2. Share insight
    There is such a wealth of information and data available to us.  We do not need to rely on who shouts loudest in the room, or those with fixed opinions based on personal prejudices.

    By sharing data we can bring different sources together to build a nuanced, clear picture of the current situation.   This will then lead to insights and perspectives on the problem.  For example at a recent client meeting we were able to bring new data on road traffic patterns which fundamentally changed the ways the client “framed” the problem of traffic exiting a business park.

  3. Set out and own a vision for the district
    We’ve been saving the best until last!  It is not the job of business to create and own vision for the locality.   Business look to local authorities for vision and leadership of place.   Leadership and vision is central to economic development

    So let’s get to work!



Posted on

Why do you love statistics?

Even if we don’t “love” statistics, they are crucial for effective local services…


Why do you love stats? It is a tricky question that might not make your Valentine date melt with delight. The question is especially difficult if you weren’t in top set at school. (For the record I was bottom set maths, and only just scraped a pass following lots of after school tutoring). Anyway back to stats. Here at Red Potato, we’ve embraced statistics with the zeal that a former smoker embraces data on the dangers of passive smoking.

The reason for our zeal is because without data too many of the big political and economic decisions are made on “gut” instinct. Don’t worry I’m going to rehearse points made previously about Brexit, Trump election and Russian bots on Facebook. My point is that without statistics the less glamorous decisions that effect us locally on road improvements, changes to parking schemes, or where and why a company decides to locate, are determined by those who shout loudest.

Local decisions probably have more effect on our daily life than Brexit & Trump, yet without statistics, data and insight these local decisions would be made based on hunch and gut instinct. So, it really is in all our interests to look beyond the rhetoric and ask “where is your evidence for that statement?”  And the answer to that question lies with lovely statistics!

Posted on

How (not) to sell infrastructure projects

What do we mean by Infrastructure?

Infrastructure – roads, rail, sewerage, airports are often big projects which offer benefits for future generations.  But infrastructure projects also often have big implications – including big disruption for the residents who have to contend with the traffic diversions, noise and change.

OK, give me some examples…

Red Potato have been involved in the project specification for minor road changes which will offer business benefits to those most disrupted.  The projects will help make it easier for businesses to get to, and from a business park.  Why is this important?  Because it directly effects business performance.  For instance, the ability to attract high quality employees.  If potential employees are faced with choosing to sit in traffic for upwards of an hour to travel a couple of miles or take a job somewhere else; it is an easy choice. Most employees want quality of life, to be home in time to go the gym or read the bedtime story.  Not be sitting in a traffic jam.   So infrastructure projects are important and can deliver real benefits.

So what needs to change?

If infrastructure is so important, why are we so bad at demonstrating the benefits?  Too often projects are into the mechanics of delivery and they loose focus on what problems they are seeking to solve.  So here is the plea…keep the focus on the what drives the project.  Without this focus we loose sight of the project objectives and ultimately that infrastructure, roads, rail, airports must be able to show clear benefits.  And those benefits should include how communities improve not just some Treasury statistics.


Posted on

The last of British Summertime

Autumn term round-up:

We hope you had a chance to enjoy the last of British Summertime!

Here at the Red Potato patch, we’ve been doing some fun video and animations for our great clients. Here is a quick round-up of some of the fabulous projects we’ve been involved with recently:

Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (Herts LEP) have a made a big commitment to engage young people with Enterprise.  This commitment includes promoting the links between schools and businesses. As part of our work with Herts LEP we’re producing an infographic showing labour market intelligence. The aim of the infographic is to help the Hertfordshire Enterprise Advisors work with schools on careers topics.   If you are interested there are lots of ways you too can become involved via the #Unexpectedmentor campaign

We’ve really enjoyed working with the friendly folk at Wycombe District Council and local businesses such as The Works.  For too long some local business parks and town centres have been neglected. As a result, small things like traffic light phasing, electronic signs not working, overgrown vegetation can quickly make an area look unloved.   So Red Potato staff have been working with local business to get them engaged with improving the space outside their front door.  By working with Business Improvement Districts and business, local authorities can make changes to an area.  The result is that businesses decide to stay and hopefully more businesses become attracted to locate in the area.  Simples!

Beyond Summertime, looking forward to Christmas:

Good luck to all of those people who participated in the #StepIntoHospitality course.  The Red Potato team delivered the course on behalf of Welwyn Hatfield Council.  The course helps local people to apply for jobs in the local hospitality sector and also enables them to sit the exam for Level 2 Food Safety.   Most of all, following the exam, we had another very strong pass rate, which was great to see!  The latest cohort of delegates are now well on their way to securing a job in hospitality and catering.  Well done everyone!   It is going to be a busy time in the run up to Christmas!

Finally, if you’d like to relive summertime; the festivals, food and fun, do have a look at the dogs and their owners enjoying @TheGameFair in Hatfield during July!

Posted on

Don’t miss the HS2 train! SMEs need to get on board

Our journey with HS2 begins

The HS2 train hasn’t yet arrived for passengers, but for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), it is already time to get on board.   OK, enough of the puns, but you get the point.  For SMEs to benefit from large scale infrastructure opportunities the time to get involved is at the early stages of design and development.  But, for SMEs to win a seat at the table, SMEs have been told that they will have raise their standards.  This blog post looks at one area that HS2 have emphasised in their supplier briefings.

In July, the winners of the major construction contracts for Britain’s new railway were announced  (17 July 2017).  The government has said that the £6.6 billion contracts will be supporting 16,000 jobs across the country.   Crucially about 60% of opportunities are aimed at SMEs

How will local communities benefit through employment and contracts from this kind of opportunity?  This is an important question because major infrastructure improvements have their own momentum.  For small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) it is not always obvious how they can become involved in these opportunities.  Supplier Roadshows can help, but they are only the first step.  For instance, EDI (Equality, Inclusion and Diversity) is critical to the success of HS2; but how many SMEs are able to meet the standards set by HS2?  And what has EDI got to do with fast trains?

Well, the answer lies in the vision for HS2.  The HS2 vision is to be a “Catalyst for growth across Britain”, and that involves more than fast trains.  To attract new people to the sector, requires a commitment from the supply chain. Perhaps most importantly it will require suppliers to move beyond a “tick-box” exercise.  Suppliers need to start to exercise leadership in their sector.  The ability to evidence real outcomes and impact will be key.  Let’s see if EDI really can the difference for SMEs.

Over the next few months you will be able to follow our journey as Red Potato attempts to become a supplier to HS2. We hope you enjoy the ride!


Posted on

The “C” Word

The “C” word

We said the “C” word and there was a look of disbelief among the delegates.

Everyone was looking shocked. Were we really saying that the “C” word was something that needed to be discussed on a course aimed at improving the skills needed to secure a job in hospitality?

The delegates on the course were unemployed, some had chequered employment histories, several were claiming ESA (Employment and Support Allowance).  All of the delegates on the course had had a tough time.   There were people recovering from addiction, people with learning disabilities, people who were recovering from life changing illnesses, which meant they faced large debts. It was no wonder that the “C” word – i,e confidence was in short supply for many of the people in the room.

Labour Market Skills

Red Potato has a mission to connect businesses with local communities. In the South East of England, the unemployment rate is low: The complaint from businesses is that they can’t get sufficiently highly qualified and competent staff from local labour markets.  But, despite the demand from employers, there remain many people who are still struggling to secure a job.   The reasons they are struggling maybe due to the disadvantages that were previously listed.  However those disadvantages, should not mean that they are excluded from jobs. The purpose of our courses on areas such as hospitality and catering is to help people.  Help people acquire the skills needed to build a rewarding career in service sector industries.  From our experience, rebuilding confidence is central to helping people secure their future.

Delegates on our courses go beyond the technical skills of job search, interviewing and understanding.   Delegates are encouraged to network and share their experiences.  By sharing experiences the group started to work together. By working together, the delegates then began to see the skills and competencies in themselves.  For example, numeracy skills, and skills such as empathy and perseverance. Until this point no one had recognised and valued those skills .  So, from this hesitant start the delegates have begun to build confidence.  Not just confidence to go and get a job. Instead they have acquired the confidence to challenge society’s expectations of what they can and can’t do.

It was a privilege to work with such a great group of people!


Posted on

Perseverance key to success for the Welwyn Hatfield Dragons Apprentices

Perseverance central to success

Congratulations to all the teams in the 2016-17 Welwyn Hatfield Dragons Apprentice Challenge.   This is the fourth year Red Potato have worked with Welwyn Hatfield Council to deliver the Challenge.  Each year there seems to be some common element to the teams; this year it was perseverance.

The Challenge involves groups of young people working together with local businesses and charities over approximately six months.   Each year the groups of young people go through a process of forming and developing as a team.  This year the process of “form, reform, split up, make up” happened again.  What was different though was the perseverance shown by team members. Why is that important? Well, the ability to keep going with the Challenge despite changes to the team, was an important factor in the teams that were succcessful. The ability to keep going, to persevere despite the set backs is important. And crucially that grit and determination to make things work came through, in the team presentations. So, congratulations to all the teams for their achievements! Perseverance is a key quality for potential entrepreneurs. Based upon the 2017/18 Welwyn Hatfield Dragons Apprentice Challenge it looks like the teams have learnt a lot about perseverance, lessons that will help them in their future careers.

Posted on

Three tips for engaging young people with your organisation

So here’s the thing, you need to communicate with young people about something important, but not urgent.   How do you do it?

Here are three quick tips we have learnt from recent work with school and college students.

  1. Test your ideas:

    In any campaign you would test your ideas with your target market. Young people are not an homogeneous market that can be easily defined.  By asking young people what they think of your ideas, you will get very useful feedback and it will help make your engagement more pertinent and so more likely to be successful.  At a recent event we had a great suggestion that the large screen could have a rolling display of social media posts, instead of a video no one could hear!

  2. Create a buzz before the event:

    The best way to do is to work with local schools or colleges so that the students are interested in your “message” prior to the event. Clearly this is only appropriate where you are working on a public service/community interest campaign.  For example recently we worked on launching the #HealthforTeens website.   Before the event we spent lots of time discussing the website themes with schools, so that school students knew more about what was involved and could influence the message, in this case about how to stay healthy!

  3. You need to persevere:

    Engagement with young people is not a one off, but needs to be part of a plan. Young people are besieged by messages, and your message is quickly forgotten. To make an impact you need to provide regular useful information that is relevant and speaks to young people.   We worked with schools and young people, after the #FutureHeroes Careers Expo to reinforce the messages, because life moves on!  Your event maybe important to you, but it will be vying for attention, with all the other things going on;   your event is only part of your campaign.  To ensure you get your message across, you need to plan, persevere and persist with the campaign.

And finally…

Young people are interested in what you have to say, but you need to be open, approachable and willing to change. The campaign will be stronger, more successful and certainly more fun!