DORSET has a rare opportunity to rebrand itself as a home for ambitious and innovative business.

That is the view of the chair of the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) after its first conference focused on driving up productivity.

Dorset LEP used its inaugural conference to launch a business forum, intended to strengthen the voice of business in the organisation.

LEPs bring together the public and private sectors to bid for government cash. The conference heard Dorset LEP had secured £234million for growth and regeneration, with £79.4m from the EU’s European Structural and Investment Fund, and had leveraged £254m in private investment.

Dorset LEP chair Jim Stewart, who is chief executive of Poole Harbour Commissioners, said the event followed the publication of the government’s industrial strategy last year.

“The government has asked us for Dorset to respond with an economic strategy for the county post-Brexit so the event was the start of that,” he said.

Nigel Jump, professor of regional economic development at Bournemouth University, told the conference that the county was contributing almost £17billion a year to the economy.

Mr Stewart said: “However, that puts us mid-table among all the other LEPs in England in terms of productivity. That leads to some very interesting questions: Is that where we’re comfortable being? Are we ambitious to improve our position and improve our productivity?”

He said the county needed to demonstrate more ambition. “If we can do that, we’re going to get the sort of funding from government that other parts of the country have received, but the government need to see that and understand we are really interested in raising our game, improving productivity with in the county.”

He said the area was not benefitting from being part of a high-profile initiative such as the government’s Northern Powerhouse or Midlands Engine, but that plans to reorganise local government gave Dorset a chance to rebrand itself.

The rural part of Dorset could increasingly promote itself along with the wider south west, while the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch conurbation could link with the Solent area.

“The opportunity to brand a new city doesn’t come along very often. It’s going to have a combined population of over 400,000 and we need to get that out to people interested in moving their business in the UK and make them aware of Dorset as a fertile area to set up a business,” he said.

The conference, which also heard from Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns, included a voting session which revealed that roads, recruitment, housing and broadband access were seen as the key impediments to growth.

Mr Stewart said improving productivity would involve creating higher paid jobs in innovative sectors. “It doesn’t mean things like tourism and agriculture aren’t important. They certainly are, but there are opportunities for growth in areas like advanced manufacturing and financial services, innovation areas which are a growth industry,” he added.