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East Midlands Chamber News

DNCC Business Briefing With Natascha Engel MP

North East Derbyshire MP Natascha Engel very kindly took the time to sit down with DNCC members at the Sitwell Arms in Renishaw recently to talk about the issues facing business.

Here's what was discussed:

Operating conditions: there was a mood of cautious optimism around the table, though it was felt that the banks continue to lend only to strong businesses, and that relationship issues with them need to be tackled, otherwise business confidence will remain subdued – hence the lack of demand at the moment for the supply of credit. It was felt that the FSA is preventing smaller sector-specific banks from being set-up. However, the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership has unveiled a new match-funded grants scheme, Unlocking Investment for Growth, that should help businesses in the area: more details are available at www.d2n2lep.org/UI4G.

It was also felt that exchange rate volatility was affecting long-term planning and confidence. Sterling has weakened approx 30% against Scandinavian currencies over the past seven years. Many firms have also been profoundly affected by mis-selling on interest-rate swap deals, many not realising what they were signing; and there was a call for the FSA and the Treasury to force a moratorium on these swaps.

Broadband: It was felt that poor levels of connectivity via Eckington exchange was acting as a deterrent to inward investment, with some firms opting to make matters into their own hands and pay the extra for what their business requires. This is affecting the nearby Westthorpe Innovation Centre in Killamarsh. Digitisation has changed business, with discs being replaced by downloads, with many organisations using virtual ‘cloud’ storage. It was therefore proposed that the Chamber sets-up a meeting allowing local firms the opportunity to interface with providers directly.

Connectivity: the #53 bus (Eckington-Sheffield) was cited as an example of an unreliable service that is unresponsive to modern working-patterns; and a surgery session was proposed with companies such as TM Travel and Stagecoach.

Young people and skills: the lack-of-experience of disadvantaged people was flagged-up as a concern, though several delegates felt the recurring problem of the attitude (timekeeping etc) of younger applicants was a more overt issue. Several firms are linking in with secondary schools on work experience placements to showcase what employability ‘looks like’ from an early age. Employers felt schools should refocus away from exam performance to address issues of ‘worklessness’ by making young people ‘work ready’; this is what the Chamber’s Schools Forum seeks to achieve.

Intermittent outages of power was cited as an issue from a business continuity perspective. Power surges often mean having to reboot, and hardware gets damaged. DNCC members felt that no viable ‘Green Option’ was put in place following the closure of the coal-fired power stations; and that the Government needs an Energy Policy.

High-speed rail: the proposed new route could run through the venue of today’s meeting, the Sitwell Arms Hotel in Renishaw. Letters that have been sent to affected areas such as this tend not to distinguish between businesses and residential areas, and the relocation awards are far too low.

Many felt the literature they had received was very poor, with little guidance, and no answers have been forthcoming when help was requested. Rather than being a long-term proposal, there are immediate concerns from a business continuity perspective, as the venue depends on revenue accrued from forward-bookings for weddings etc; and this affects their forward-planning for energy tariff agreements as well as the wedding trade. It was also noted that the ‘consultation’ appears to be about compensation, rather than the HS2 line itself.

Members present failed to see the economic benefit locally, as it was felt that HS2 would inhibit local regeneration efforts, and that its economic case would prevent houses from selling as well as planning permissions being affected, owing to the prolonged period of uncertainty. The message was clearly that businesses are being affected now, as well as in the future; however it was also recognised that rail capacity needs freeing-up, and that we need to focus on good connectivity to both Toton and Meadowhall under the current framework.