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Live from Love Business: Sir John Peace backs the Midlands to drive the UK’s growth

Live from Love Business: Sir John Peace backs the Midlands to drive the UK’s growth

One of the region’s most celebrated business leaders called for greater collaboration between businesses, public sector organisations and education providers across the Midlands to unlock productivity, innovation and economic growth.

Sir John Peace, Chair of the Midlands Engine, was speaking at this year’s Love Business Expo, during a special seminar about raising the ambition of businesses in our region. The session, hosted by KuKu Connect co-founders Stephen Goddard and Philip Brooks-Stephenson, saw Sir John address a range of topics about harnessing the potential of businesses in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire on the global stage.

He told the audience of local business leaders: “Collaboration is essential if we’re to achieve economic growth and drive the economy with the potential the Midlands Engine has.

“In terms of productivity, the Midlands is below the national average. If we could simply bring the Midlands up to the national average, we would add £90bn of GVA, not just to the Midlands economy, but to the UK economy. Therefore, the prize here is huge. That’s why the Treasury is very interested in some of the things the Midlands Engine is doing.

“In terms of the opportunities on offer, needless to say, for the home of innovation and the industrial revolution, there are a number of very important clusters in our region, which have huge potential for growth, not just nationally, but internationally. To unlock that, and to fully realise that opportunity, collaboration is the only way to do it.”

Sir John, who also chairs Midlands Connect and is the Lord-Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, has had a long and distinguished business career at the highest levels, covering the technology, financial services and retail sectors.

He is a founder, former chairman and chief executive of Experian plc, former chief executive of GUS Plc, former chairman of Standard Chartered plc and, until July 2018, was chairman of Burberry plc. He was knighted in 2011 for services to business and the voluntary sector.

During the seminar, Sir John also commented on the vital role that SMEs play in the local economy: “Ambition varies in different sectors of our economy. Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are ambitious. The reason so many of our SMEs are in existence is because of that entrepreneurial spirit. “Some 60% of all jobs across the UK are in SMEs, so we must not forget the importance of this sector.”       

He went on to say that any innovative businesses doing new or interesting things within the region should apply for a King’s Award for Enterprise, to help them showcase their achievements and achieve national – and even global – recognition.

This year’s Love Business Expo took place at the Holywell Park Conference Centre, in Loughborough. The Chamber, a long-time supporter of Love Business, was once again its headline sponsor.

The event’s theme was ‘Blast to the Future’, and it took a closer look at what’s on the horizon for businesses. It explored the technology landscape in detail, looking at how AI and digital tools will drive business growth, and how best to introduce the next generation of talent into the workforce. An ‘AI village’ showcased some of the latest tech and innovations from our universities and cutting-edge companies, while local experts shared their views on how businesses can harness these innovations to support their growth and success.

Elsewhere at the event, the Chamber, in partnership with the SMB College Group, held a panel discussion about strategic thinking for business growth, which covered topics as broad as skills, devolution, the journey to net zero and the growth of AI.

Commenting on the skills issue, Richard Blackmore, the Chamber’s Head of Special Projects, said: “There needs to be continued engagement between business and education. The responsibility lies on both sides. Education must open up to allow businesses to come in. And businesses must take the time out to connect with the education providers, from primary to higher education. It’s an investment in your business to have those conversations and articulate those needs.”    

And speaking about the rapid growth of artificial intelligence applications over the past two years, AI expert Martin Broadhurst, or Broadhurst Digital, said more businesses need to embrace it, rather than shy away.

He said: “Don’t bury your head in the sand and say ‘AI isn’t going to affect my industry’, because it will. It’s exactly the same as those who said, in 1999, that the internet wouldn’t affect their industry. It will. AI is here to stay. So, lean into it.

“Get your leadership team clued up on what AI is and isn’t, because there are a lot of misconceptions. It’s not just about ChatGPT. Educate yourself. Look at what AI applications are relevant to your industry.

“Start small, with some pilot projects where you can deploy AI and build out. You’ll have a head start, because many businesses still aren’t doing it yet.”

Love Business Expo is now in its 12th year. The inaugural event took place in 2012, and it has since grown to become the region’s biggest and best free business showcase.

Steve Megson, managing director of Quiet Storm Solutions, which founded Love Business, said: “A huge thanks to everyone involved in making this year’s expo better than ever. The event continues to go from strength to strength, and record visitor numbers this year are proof of that.

“Once again, a massive thanks to all our event partners and sponsors, without whom the event wouldn’t have been possible. The amazing feedback we received from guests throughout the day made all the hard work that went into organising the expo worth it. It means a lot to us and drives us to keep pushing the event forward. We’ll definitely be back in 2025… bigger and better than ever!”

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