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06 Apr 2023

Government must work with SME manufacturers in East Midlands’ ‘Centre of Trading Excellence’ to shape vision for UK industry

Small manufacturers have a vital role to play in shaping a strategy for UK industry – but they need a clear, consistent vision from Government first.

This was one of the key messages at the East Midlands Manufacturing and Trade Conference 2023, in which business, industry and academic leaders came together to discuss opportunities and challenges.

More than 170 people attended the summit, organised by East Midlands Chamber in partnership with East Midlands Airport, Geldards and Loughborough University, which hosted the event at its West Park Teaching Hub today (Thursday 6 April).

Chris Hobson speaking at the East Midlands Manufacturing and Trade Conference 2023

It was the latest initiative in the Chamber’s engagement programme to develop insights behind its regional economic blueprint, titled A Centre of Trading Excellence: A Business Manifesto for Growth in the East Midlands and Beyond, which was launched in Westminster last autumn.

The 12-page manifesto is led by “The Big Opportunity” for Government to further develop the region’s key assets – its industrial heritage, leading-edge universities, central location and the country’s largest pure freight airport – to establish a formula for economic growth across UK regions as part of priority national agendas such as levelling up and net zero.

Chris Hobson, director of policy and insight at East Midlands Chamber, said: “It’s always important to tap into the knowledge base of our region’s manufacturing leaders, who live and breathe the everyday reality of running a business in an industry that holds the key to unlocking future economic prosperity but is also experiencing a long list of challenges.

“One of the threads that ran through several discussions was the importance of having a consistent, shared vision between Government and business.

“Policy has changed direction far too often, including numerous industrial strategies in recent times, for companies that require a stable environment to breed the certainty which ultimately leads to long-term investment plans.

“When creating this vision, it’s vital that SMEs are at the heart of it in a bottom-up approach, while it must also be underpinned by targeted public investment. For businesses, the message is they should also be willing to play an active role in these discussions with our policymakers.”

East Midlands Freeport chair among speakers at Manufacturing and Trade Conference

The conference included keynote speeches from:

  • Nora Senior CBE, chair of the East Midlands Freeport, which received official approval from Government last week and was described as “one of the most transformative economic initiatives this region has seen in a long time”

    Nora Senior CBE speaking at the East Midlands Manufacturing and Trade Conference 2023
  • East Midlands Airport’s new managing director Steve Griffiths, who explained how the average export tonne that passes through the airport’s cargo operation is worth £335,000 – 1.9-times higher than other UK airports and 168-times higher than the average for all British ports
  • Loughborough University vice-chancellor and president Professor Nick Jennings, and professor of manufacturing automation and robotics Niels Lohse, who explained the financial and cultural barriers to adoption of automation, which he said could improve productivity by 22% just by using technology that’s already available.

Chris added: “There were some really interesting lessons from our speakers. We know all about how poorly we perform as a nation when it comes to productivity despite being an international leader in digital technology innovation.

“There are clearly some significant cost and cultural barriers to adoption that we must begin to understand in order to implement these innovations within our manufacturing processes.

“Also, the importance of East Midlands Airport’s cargo operation to our region’s economy was reinforced by insights into the high-value goods in sectors such as automotive and aerospace it transports across the world – and with 28% of all cargo originating in the East Midlands, this reaffirms the Centre of Trading Excellence we have in this region.”

To read East Midlands Chamber’s Business Manifesto for Growth, A Centre of Trading Excellence, visit