MANY Dorset businesses are pessimistic about future growth, hampered by poor public transport, slow internet, poor mobile coverage and difficulties finding skilled and motivated staff.

The issues emerged during a business breakfast meeting run by Dorset Council in Dorchester yesterday.

There were also complaints about what was seen as the majority of business funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership going to the Bournemouth area.

Speakers from North Dorset and Weymouth and Portland complained about being forgotten when it came to investment.

Council cabinet member Cllr Gary Suttle said he hoped that attitudes about investing in rural Dorset would change through the council’s emerging economic growth strategy.

“This has been out greatest opportunity to get it right since 1974… we need to look at bringing jobs to people, with better broadband we can avoid the need for people having to commute 50 miles a day on our roads which just can’t cope with the traffic. We really do need to now think differently,” he said.

But speakers told him that some areas of the county were still without superfast internet, many places still struggled to get a decent mobile phone service and only 3 per cent of the county has full fibre internet, compared to 10 per cent nationally and more than 90 per cent in many Asian countries.

A poll in the room saw 67 per cent say they believed Dorset would take more than 20 years, or would never, see 95 per cent of the local population have the digital skills take full advantage of the internet. More than 45 per cent in the room said they did not have the internet connection they needed for their business now, only 28 per cent said they did. The figures rose to 55 per cent for mobile phone connections.

“The trouble is that we started really, really behind and we are constantly playing catch up. We simple need to invest,” said one speaker.

Lack of public transport also emerged as a key issue for some businesses with one man from North Dorset claiming that integrated public transport simply did not exist in many parts of the rural county.

Others spoke about the difficulty of recruiting staff, voted as the second biggest concern to transport issues.

A Weymouth campsite owner spoke about relying on foreign workers because they were content to do whatever was needed, while some British workers thought occasional cleaning tasks were ‘beneath them.’

Others said they simply could not find the right staff with the right skills and it was difficult to attract professionals to live in a county which had relatively few well-paid job opportunities, poor roads, public transport and lack-lustre facilities compared to cities - although most scored the environment highly.

Almost 58 per cent in a poll at the meeting said recruiting was the key challenge with 15 per cent listing retaining existing staff as their main workforce concern.

In other polls carried out during the consultation event 79 per cent of the 36 voting said their priority was steady growth for their businesses, with 6.9 per cent claiming their main priority was survival.

Economic growth manager for Dorset Council, David Walsh, said that potential growth sectors for the council areas were health and care, creative and culture, agri-environment and defence and security businesses.

“We want Dorset to be seen to be a good place to do business, and to do business well,” he said, “and we want to attract more high quality jobs.”

His outline plan included concentrating on what is known as the ‘Jurassic corridor" of Weymouth, Portland and Dorchester and an area to the north around Blandford, Shaftesbury and Gillingham. Draft strategies look towards the towns to provide job growth, although several speakers from the audience argued for the rural areas to be seen for the potential they have to create jobs, helped by better IT.

Figures produced for the meeting acknowledged the emerging Dorset workforce problems with 150,000 of current workers expected to retire by 2029 and only 23,000 jobs likely to be created, based on the current trend.

Mr Walsh said that many of the area’s young people were “not inspired by the local economy, or just don’t know what opportunities there are.”

Ideas from the meeting, and others like it being held across the county, will be fed back in to a council panel in February with a draft economic strategy emerging from the council in the spring.