Interning for the council

Words from Matt Alexander, having completed a summer internship st Surrey Heath Borough council:

Spending the summer interning in Economic Development at Surrey Heath has been genuinely enjoyable, I have learnt a great deal about the operations of local government and its relation to the local economy while being part of a small, welcoming and dynamic team working on exciting and innovative projects.

From the very first week I was included in meetings including a visit to Surrey University to talk about the LEPs approach to the Space Industry – this introduced me to the necessary collaboration between governmental institutions to ensure an economic vision for the region. I was also given the responsibility of assessing the economic viability and effects of new restaurant development in Camberley; it was a great opportunity to use my education in Economics to apply to the local area, weighing up the potential demand, competition and externalities relating to the investment.From here I was asked to assess different local economic development strategies from across the country to analyse the different approaches and their successes. It was insightful to see the diversity in economic development across the country due to the individual challenges that each community faces.

From reading these strategies it became clear that it was necessary to have a clear picture of the unique local economy before rewriting the economic development strategy.

This led me to focus on data analysis to pertain exactly where Surrey Heath sits as compared to the other 383 local authorities in the UK.

Through collation and analysis of data I drew out key economic information such as Surrey Heath being the best for wellbeing in the Home Counties according to ONS. Not only will this data shape our future economic development but it will be used in the Local Plan, Inward Investment brochures, marketing and across the council to analyse, compare and sell the borough.Alongside this, I worked closely with colleagues on two key tasks of economic development: ensuring local businesses are supported in the borough and delivering key infrastructure and regeneration projects. The former includes meeting a variety of businesses from international corporates like Bank of America to start-up disruptors such as CoTribe. It was fascinating to see how these contrasting businesses shared similar issues and unique challenges depending on their size, location and industry. Issues such as Brexit were of interest to all businesses while some firms were more concerned about specific details of the local economy such as the low availability of warehouse space in our region. These meetings created a variety of tasks from drawing down information from central government to inform local business to taking active steps to link certain businesses to available property, workers or investment.

Liaising and connecting with local businesses gave me a great opportunity to prepare me for employment after I finish my degree. In particular, it helped me hone soft skills such as solving problems for local businesses,  communicating with a variety of business leaders and connecting different economic agents. Another huge benefit was seeing how the economy worked in reality rather than just in theory, the organisation of business, markets and the economy is a lot less natural than orthodox economic theory would suggest – information is imperfect, labour is not homogenous and the economy is more entwined with the community than textbooks explain.

The third part of the role was working on two key projects for the borough – planning the regeneration of a vacant retail unit of 30,000 sq ft into a new indoor market for the town and creating a business case for a 5G retail testbed across the town of Camberley. Working with expert consultants in each field allowed me to see the machinations of project management close-up in two very different industries. For the market project I researched and approached potential tenants as well as used my data analysis skills to compare successful market launches such as Altrincham to Camberley – they are both prosperous, family, middle-class towns on the periphery of a major city. The 5G testbed project included working with international corporations such as Huawei, Siemens, Vodafone as well as governmental organisations such as Ofcom and DIT. This was a great education in the complex nature of bringing different stakeholders together in a project as well as the need to satisfy the different pressures a project faces both politically and financially. Again, I contributed to this project by using my data analysis to give a picture of the borough and why it is suitable for 5G innovation – it is digitally skilled, wealthy and has concerns about the demise of the high street.

The internship has been a great opportunity to work with experienced, helpful colleagues and to learn about the local economy, the role of local government, project management as well as developing my soft skills before graduating and heading into employment.

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