Meet the Board – Simon Marks
Simon Marks is GBSLEP non-executive director for Optimising Assets. Simon, a Director of Arcadis Design and Consultancy firm, has more than 30 years experience in the delivery of major residential developments, automotive facilities, infrastructure, public sector transformation and capital projects.
What is your role in the LEP?
“I am the Chair and lead for the Optimising Assets Group (OAG). We report to the Place Board and I sit on the main Board of the LEP representing the OAG.
“OAG is all about making the most of the assets we have in the LEP geography: the physical, cultural and environmental assets not just bricks and mortar. We look at what we can do, whether it is leveraging funding, joining up streams of work, engaging with the public and private sector, that will make the most of the assets and drive the economic growth, create the jobs and deliver the skills aligned to the objectives of the LEP.
What achievements so far are you most proud of?
“I’m really proud of our first tranche of Local Growth Fund allocation which was the highest for any LEP area. Also the role that the LEP has played in the Combined Authority and Devolution; all 3 LEPs in the region have played a key role. We should be proud that the members of the LEP Board have been involved in helping to shape the devolution deal and that has given us a platform to really drive the region forward. As the OAG, we have our Unlocking Housing Sites fund, we’ve worked very hard to get the prospectus right and to understand how we can best apply this funding. It is £9million in total and I’m really proud of the OAG team. Expressions of Interest are coming in at the moment and I’m looking forward to seeing the homes being delivered as a result of the work we’ve been doing. And OAG public and private sector members are out there spreading the word about the LEP. I had a really good session recently with BPS talking to a group of up and coming professionals about what the LEP does and debating the Combined Authority, devolution and how it all comes together.”
What is the next big challenge?
“There are a few! We are working on the Strategic Economic Plan refresh at the moment; doing the checks and balances, building on the previous work and further developing areas that were only lightly addressed in the original SEP. Housing is one of those areas and it is an area where the LEP can play a significant role in driving that agenda forward. The Unlocking Housing Sites fund is one way. Another is utilising the skills and network we have in the OAG and the Place Board. We are looking at how we can use our skills and our networks to join up the industry, create momentum, join up the initiatives of the local authorities, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Combined Authority and Government to deliver a bigger impact. It is still too disjointed at the moment. We are also looking at how we make sure we maximise the benefits of the whole HS2 piece in the LEP geography but also across the wider region. In my mind this is a one in two generations opportunity and we’ve got to make sure it’s the best it can be!
“Ultimately the work of the LEP and the other stakeholders is all about how we improve the quality of life for everyone. It is important as ‘quality of life’ forms part of the offer we have as an area. Look at HSBC, they are relocating large numbers of staff here and their people are only going to want to move here because there is a good quality of life – good houses, schools, transport, entertainment, relaxation etc. And we need to stay ahead of the curve on this so when the next big relocation happens we can say we have the skills, here’s the site, here’s the right housing, here’s the right leisure, culture, parks, schools. Everything we need to make it a really compelling region to come to and do business in and bring your family up in.”
What’s your favourite place in the LEP area?
“I love cycling, I don’t do nearly enough cycling but you never can – and you can never own enough bikes. The optimum number of bikes is always N+1 where N is the number of bikes you currently have!
“I was brought up on the Lickey Hills and every other weekend I’m out there on my bike. When I was about 10 years old I was on the front page of the Birmingham Post with my BMX bike on the Lickey Hills, because it had snowed in late Spring! That’s my leisure time. I also love the city centre. I’ve worked my whole career in city centre, I love the character areas, the historic buildings right next to the really modern glass buildings. You get a real sense of what Birmingham is about – steeped in our heritage and yet very cutting edge and 21st century. This city has a great balance of the historic and modern.”
Why are you involved in the LEP?
“I love my job and really enjoy it. The LEP gives me the chance to use the skills I have in a very different way – a fresh challenge. It has given me a fantastic network, and I have learnt a lot working with my LEP colleagues. It is a new environment for me and it is a journey and a challenge and helps improve my skills. Being involved in the LEP also allows me to use my skills to make a difference; the economic growth, skills and jobs we help create all give people improved life chances.”
What is your favourite piece of music and book?
“I don’t have a favourite piece of music but do I do have a favourite band, Depeche Mode. I’ve seen them loads of times, I’ve got all their albums, loads of box sets and I can’t say there is a single track or record I didn’t like.
“There are three things I have a passion for reading about, cycling is one and ‘Velominati: The Rules: The Way of the Cycling Disciple’ is fantastic – Rule 5 is the one that keeps you going when you feel like quitting!; Dean Koontz is my favourite author for holiday reading and; current affairs, I read the Economist, I trawl news websites everyday and I enjoy reading about politics, economics and everything current affairs.”