Is Ashbourne getting better? There are many in the town who don’t want change and see it as eroding the town for them. This is a difficult thing to argue with because it must always be a personal and subjective evaluation. I can see a number of things which must have concerned even the most ardent supporter of the status quo. The closure of the airfield will have elicited mixed opinion but it is hard to see how the loss of the cattle market, the railway and Nestle can have done anything damage the town. Every week smaller decisions are made which will either slowly build or erode the town still further but the impact of each will be tiny.
Readers of my blog will be aware that I really believe that Ashbourne is a business. It has an income, shares, expenses and competitors. Like all businesses it needs investment.
The income of Ashbourne is the sum of all the money spent in the town’s pubs, shops, cafes and restaurants as well as the money it’s residents earn from activities outside the town. Just like a business, the objective must be to grow the income of the town through the success of all our businesses through marketing the Ashbourne brand successfully – as a great place to visit, live and work. The business world shows that if you don’t grow, you need to cut your costs accordingly.
Of course there are costs too. Some are obvious – the rates we need to pay to the council for example. There are also ‘costs’ of traffic congestion, pollution, flooding, welfare payments, housing development disruption.
And this brings me to the shares and us the shareholders. We all have a direct stake in the town by living here and the value of those shares can be reflected directly by housing prices and school league tables but also indirectly by our own personal satisfaction with our way of life. Like all businesses there are the smaller shareholders like you and I but also the big shareholders who have a disproportionate say in how things go. For corporations the big shareholders are Pension Funds. For Ashbourne the big shareholders are Derbyshire Dales District Council, Derbyshire County County Council, property developers, and major employers. When it comes to steering the direction of a major company individual shareholders don’t really get a look in. They can have their moment of glory standing up at a shareholder’s meeting but ultimately the big votes of the major shareholders are what counts.
And then there are the competitors – the towns around us. Employers looking to expand will hunt around for the right location based on workforce skills, grants and property. The Councils with scarce resources will decide where to allocate budget to get the best payback. Bus Tour companies will decide which of England’s tourist destinations to feature in their new season of holidays and thousands of local households will decide where to go and do their weekly shop.
Those decisions can have a huge benefit or catastrophic impact. Those decisions about where railway stations were closed, where JCB put their Head Office and Nestle put their production, where the cattle markets consolidated, and where major retailers decided to expand changed Ashbourne’s futures in a marked way. Right now major shareholders are making decisions about where the housing allocation for Derbyshire Dales should go, policing and emergency services priorities, parking availability and charges and even where and when markets are held.
The Ashbourne share is a real investment. The moment you joined the Ashbourne community you bought one whether you realise it or not. The moment you leave Ashbourne you realise how much it was worth. In my view the value of the share is driven by the movement in the average house price, average income, unemployment rate and quality of education. It’s the difference in those things compared to plonking yourself in the average town in Derbyshire. We start with an advantage from living in Derbyshire Dales. There was an Ashbourne Economic assessment done in 2007 which highlighted the prosperity of the area compared to surrounding regions and the Uk as a whole. Unemployment figures are less encouraging. We have above-average unemployment according to the latest figures on the Derbyshire County Council website. QEGS was a shining beacon of education until the most recent OFSTED report. Certainly the bounceback is encouraging but the pace of that change is having a negative impact on teaching staff and there is a huge amount of private tuition going on which is not being recognised. Residents could argue that living in the QEGS catchment area added to the share price because they didn’t need to even consider private education. If we look at the Ashbourne PLC share price over a longer time frame it would be interesting to see how current performance compares with key points in the past.
Our Board of Directors, the Town Council, have an unenviable task of balancing the strategy for a thriving and successful Ashbourne with the demands of major shareholders. The easy option is to keep our heads down and rely on the strength of the Ashbourne product to give us future success. I could cite a lot of examples that demonstrate how disastrous that approach always is in the corporate world. Instead I’ll just cite Kodak! No matter how great we may think Ashbourne is we can never underestimate the stupidity of the outside world in realising it! For every Ashbourne there are tens and hundreds of other towns making their case to our customers and investors.
Apathy is the greatest danger. Lack of unity is a close second. We can all moan about the price of parking, the traffic congestion, lack of opportunity for our young people and our town being overrun by new residents. I constantly hear people say that they feel powerless and even blaming others for not doing more. The Neighbourhood Plan is a way forward. It will set the Ashbourne agenda for years to come and yet the steering group struggle to get input. Everyone in Ashbourne should be knocking on their door with ideas, concerns and support. They are setting the agenda for Ashbourne Plc and the resulting plan will affect the Town’s revenue, costs and the value of your ‘share’. Wouldn’t it be great if an index was created which actually measured the success of the Ashbourne Share – something we could actually base voting decisions on?