Businesses of Milton Keynes need to find their voice and engage with council to realise ambitious city plans

With the government set to cut Rate Support Grants, and MK Council’s reliance on business rates set to increase by 25%, Cllr Sam Crooks, Mayor of Milton Keynes, has called upon businesses to work collaboratively with the council - particularly as the city faces a decade of considerable growth.

Speaking at the first Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership (MKBLP) event of 2020, Cllr Crooks highlighted how the phasing out of the Rate Support Grant will see the percentage of local business rates retained by the council increase to 75%. He said: “There will be a democratic deficit because, as a business, you can’t vote – but you do have a voice - and it is important that you engage effectively with the council and say what you need for the success of your businesses and our local economy.”

The timing of Cllr Crooks’ business appeal is particularly significant due to concerns that, following the General Election, funds originally pledged to delivering elements of the MK Futures 2050 programme, the most ambitious urban development project seen in England for several decades, will be reallocated as part of the government’s renewed focus on the Northern

Powerhouse.

“While there hasn’t yet been a final agreement on aspects outlined within the commission, such as the MK East infrastructure and an Expressway linking the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, the new government may revise its

current strategies.”

However, the overriding need for Milton Keynes to grow is widely accepted - particularly as the city’s population is set to increase two-fold within the next 30 years, from around 270,000 residents to 500,000 by 2050.

Cllr Crooks also clearly defined the rationale behind the growth strategy: “MK Futures 2050 was not commissioned to double the size of Milton Keynes and hope people come in from the outside, we have to face up to the fact that we need to provide housing for our children and our grandchildren - 60% of the new houses and flats built will be for the children of families already here.”

Education plays a critical role within the growth plans particularly as, by 2050, there could well be more children studying in Milton Keynes’ schools than there will be in Manchester.

The need to create a strong educational pipeline is essential to the growth of Milton Keynes. From feeding talent into Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley, the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, which will be a hub of AI and technological businesses, to creating a viable higher education offering to encourage the city’s younger generation to stay: “Milton Keynes acts as an escalator. We have good people in our secondary schools, but they move out of the city to go to university – and don’t come back. We are effectively exporting our talent elsewhere, but we need to retain it within Milton Keynes to sustain and fuel

our growth.”

On the subject of the proposed MK:U university, which is set to break ground next year, Cllr Crooks admitted that plans could be hindered by the election, due to the £100 million government investment needed, however he stressed the importance of having a university in Milton Keynes: “It is important that a city like ours has a distinctive university, particularly if we are to realise our ambition of becoming one of Britain’s, and certainly England’s, Top 10 cities.”

Cllr Crooks concluded his speech by outlining plans for two new transit systems, which will eventually pave the way for autonomous trains, and a renewed focus on promoting the creative and cultural side of the city’s arts.

“We need to get a better image of ourselves. We are internationally renowned as a go ahead place and we can sell that just as much through the arts as through our sport, our urban design and our learning and education. This is our challenge – but we are up for it.”

The MKBLP event took place at MK Gallery.