Love Business 2020 panel calls for united front

Love Business 2020 panel calls for united front

One of the highlights of Love Business is the annual Q+A panel, which sees key business figures from across the Heart of the Midlands come together to debate the burning business questions of the day.

This year’s panel was no exception.

Ably chaired by entrepreneur Ninder Johal DL, the panel, comprising North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen, East Midlands Chamber Chief Executive Scott Knowles, LLEP Chair Kevin Harris and D2N2’s Natalie Gasson, plus Jess Barnett of TTK Confectionery and Mike Wallis of Spatial Global, covered a wide variety of topics surrounding the role that Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire play as the ’Heart of the Midlands’.

Prior to the panel discussion, local poet Jamie Thrasivoulou gave a stirring performance of ‘We are the Heart of the Midlands’, the poem he was commissioned to write by Love Business and the Chamber as part of the campaign.

Once Ninder had set the scene and talked about the importance of strong regional identity, several businesses in the audience put their questions to the panel.

Here’s how they responded…

Q – Simon Bursell, of SCH Bursell Ltd

What role do Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire play in the region’s economy and why does this make them the ‘Heart of the Midlands’? 

A – Scott Knowles, East Midlands Chamber

You only have to look at all the opportunity and development that's going on around here.

We have the largest freight airport on the doorstep. We’ve got all the work the East Midlands Development Corporation is starting to do. We’ve got two very collaborative LEPs here.

We make more stuff here than anywhere else across the UK, whether it’s our world-class innovators like Rolls-Royce and Toyota, or our local supply chains across a broad mix of sectors.

It really is a unique area.

We have an extremely strong economy here. We've seen where other areas of the UK have been facing hard economic times, the East Midlands is strong, resilient and punches well above its weight.

We have huge strengths in manufacturing, in connectivity and an extremely strong service sector, which is what makes the East Midlands such a distinctive area.

We hear the term levelling up a lot, well this is our opportunity for the East Midlands to level up, with our three counties at the centre.


Q – David Smith from the Mansfield Innovation Centre

Do we do enough as a region to celebrate the important industrial, historical and cultural assets we have in the Heart of the Midlands and try to really put this part of the world on the map?

A – Dr Nik Kotecha, Morningside Pharmaceuticals

We gave the world the Industrial Revolution and when I think about all the manufacturing jobs that are created here in the East Midlands, it tells an impressive story.

As far as cultural side of it goes, if you look at the diversity of the population, with ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, again, we’re the second-largest diverse population outside of London, which brings huge benefits to our region.

Of course, our history is in the past, we can look back with pride, but it’s not necessarily what’s going to happen in the future, we’ve got to shape that.

But, because we’ve got these great ethics and values steeped in our region, we’re in a good place.

And when you look around at all the things we’ve got here in terms of technology, manufacturing, the different types of jobs that have been created, our 20 fantastic universities, several of them medical schools, it’s fantastic.

So, this link between academia and the private sector, this is what we really need to be shouting about, to Government, to Westminster and to the rest of the UK and beyond.

Q – Victoria Prince, Touchpoints Marketing

What advantages does being based in the Heart of the Midlands bring when compared to other areas?

A – Jess Barnett, TTK Confectionery

For me and my business, it's all about collaboration, connectivity and creativity.

As a growing SME, we have a strong ecosystem of businesses around us, so we get a huge amount from more established businesses in terms of collaboration and encouragement.

Also, we don't feel like we're on our own because of the connectivity we have here.

A lot of my competitors are actually down in the south. So, for me, the difference is that we're not down south.

We're in an area where our customers might not have even been to before, so we can easily get to them but likewise, it's great to invite them here and show them what we've got in this area.

On my next point, creativity, the USP of my business is its design capabilities.

So, we've got the Cultural Quarter and the Creative Quarter and probably the largest showing of independent retailers outside of London in Nottingham. Then we’ve got Creative Leicestershire and a thriving beauty industry and just that voice and vibe of creativity in our region.

My creative team are all NTU (Nottingham Trent University) graduates, who are from all over the country, but they've decided to stay in Nottingham because clearly there's something going on that makes them feel at home here and want to develop their careers here.

Q – Lee Barker, of Tex Plastics, Derby

The Heart of the Midlands is a key freight and logistics hub in driving UK exports overseas. In the brave new post-Brexit world, how important is it to keep those links into Europe and beyond open?

A – Mike Wallis, Spatial Global

Our infrastructure has improved massively, but it’s important to not get carried away with things like the airport or the road network or whatever, because it’s what’s at the end of it that’s important.

If you’ve only got certain services, then you’ve still got to go to Heathrow, or wherever, to connect with A, B, C or D.

There are some good companies out in, for example, the Emirates and for them to try to grow in that region, they will bring freight into East Midlands Airport, but fly it out at Heathrow or Manchester, or wherever makes sense for them to get it to where they need it to be.

So, the way the actual infrastructure works is variable and it’s the services and connections that are important.

Q – Catherine Johnson of EDS, Nottinghamshire

What’s your view on the opportunities that key infrastructure projects, such as HS2, will bring to the Heart of the Midlands?

A – Kevin Harris, LLEP Chair

These are massive projects that will make a major difference and I think it's down to us to recognise that we are only chipping away at the edges.

I’ve worked with the 37 other LEP chairs across the UK and all of us want the same for our own territory, we all want to be out there getting as big a piece of the pie as we can.

So, it’s important that we focus on collaboration. Frankly, nothing stops halfway up the M1, or halfway along the A50 where the airport sits. It's one of our assets as a region.

What Government wants to see is joined-up thinking, so my role is to ensure I'm engaging not only with what’s best Leicester and Leicestershire, but also what my neighbouring LEP areas want, because actually, we're all integrated and we need to make sure that what we present to Government is  joined-up.

Q – David Maran, MP Digital, Nottingham

What sort of things are you hoping to see the new Government prioritise when it comes to supporting business?  

A – Natalie Gasson, D2N2 LEP

The one thing I’ve learned over the past decade of working in business support is that the best businesses just get on with things and they’ll thrive regardless of what comes out of Government.

I think Government policy is never designed to hinder people and businesses. Policymakers just don’t sit around, thinking ‘what can we do to hamper the private sector?’.

But what often happens is, the evidence and data they work from doesn’t translate from central Government to the regions.

So, what I’d like to see more of is proper, evidence-led consultation with businesses on the ground, with the public sector and with the third sector to actually properly test how each policy will manifest itself.

Q – Sandra Wiggins from DPI UK, Castle Donington

Can you please give an MP’s view on what the Government’s priorities are for business over this Parliament and what you expect businesses to do in return?

A – Andrew Bridgen MP, North West Leicestershire

We want to create a stable and economic backdrop. We know that business confidence is returning after the General Election, with the certainty of a majority government after what we've had for the past two or three years.

We've now left officially left the European Union, so there’s more certainty around that.

What I want is to have more power over our own infrastructure.

We should be deciding what we're going to do in the East Midlands.

I support the idea of an elected mayor for the three counties. I think there has been some resistance to that locally, but we need to get over that and take control of our own future.

In terms of economic growth, we’re doing really well, we’re leading the way for the rest of the UK and parts of the Eurozone, but I still I think we can do so much better.


At the end of the panel, Ninder asked each member to sum up the opportunities that lie ahead for the Heart of the Midlands over the next three years.

There was broad agreement that lack of collaboration remains an issue and that more could be done to put on a unified face for the East Midlands to Government.

This should include devolving more powers from central government to an elected mayor representing the region, something that all panel members were open to.  

“The problem for the East Midlands is its stuck between the two Andy’s,” said Ninder (referring to Birmingham Mayor Andy Street and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham).

“That’s OK… we’ve got Andrew Bridgen!” said Andrew Bridgen MP.

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