After five years of economic dearth, a UK government investment of more than £400 million has been welcomed by business figures and diplomats. What’s more, it is set to boost economic ties between the UK and Israel.
At least £15 million of the £415 million injection will go towards fostering entrepreneurial initiatives in universities across eight UK cities.
Students at universities with large Jewish societies from Birmingham to Nottingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, will have tools to start-up a business and collaborate with national and international companies.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles told the JC that the new University Enterprise Zones could “enhance” bilateral trade between the UK and Israel.
Mr Pickles said the scheme would “increase free trade and [encourage] positive relations between this country and Israel — we already do so much together in [industries such as] biotechnology”. He added: “This is designed to strengthen university and business co-operation.”
Highlighting the IT-prowess of the “Silicon Roundabout in London’s East End”, he said Britain could become a “start up nation”, a phrase coined to describe Israel’s economic miracle.
“We want to attract the best to Britain,” he added. “The brightest university students with great ideas.”
Noah Shani, minister for trade and economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in London, welcomed the investment.
He said: “Sharing ideas and developing technologies together, through academia and industry, will not only strengthen the UK’s bilateral links with Israel; such a partnership can have a positive effect on the world.”
Hugo Bieber, chief executive of UK Israel Business, a leading organisation promoting bilateral trade links, said: “The earlier entrepreneurs can be brought together the better. Greater economic ties between the UK and Israel, which start on campus, will have a positive influence for both countries.”
But Shraga Zaltzman, managing director of TrainE-TraidE, a leading Jewish employment charity that works with university students, was somewhat more sceptical.
“My concern is that the number of students who find employment through these programmes is very small,” he said. “Graduates looking to start their own businesses need the training and infrastructure that will give them the understanding of how business works. They need business loans to be able to launch their new ventures and they need appropriate mentoring which will guide them and hopefully prevent them from making silly mistakes that can lead to failure.
“This is not what will drive the economy in the next five years.”
But the investment goes beyond university enterprise. Some £300 million will help to alleviate tax bills for small retail firms and a further £100 million will go towards supporting business infrastructure in Enterprise Zones. The latter will develop British local industries from manufacturing to media and create 3,000 jobs by 2015, explained Mr Pickles.
“The expansion of Enterprise Zones will be particularly attractive to Israeli businesses looking to enter the UK market,” added Mr Bieber, who is looking to diversify relationships to regions outside of London.
Though the latest figures have boasted of UK economic recovery, Mr Pickles, the Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar, said: “I don’t think it’s time to relax.
“If you’re a business person looking to invest, now is the time to go for it. If you’re looking to take on an employee, go for it. It’s time to increase productivity. We don’t want our kids to go through [the recession].”
“This is part of our long-term plan. We can grow space for UK businesses.”