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East Midlands Chamber News

Business briefing with Kenneth Clarke MP

The Chamber received an unexpected free plug on ITV's Agenda discussion programme last night (Monday) when guest Kenneth Clarke MP mentioned a meeting he'd had recently with members.

Panelists were discussing the state of the economy and the RT Hon Mr Clarke said he'd been reassured by businesses at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting in Nottingham that the economy and business confidence were improving.

At the Business Breakfast Briefing, at the Carriage Hall, Plumtree, members had been keen to share their views on the economy and to discuss continuing pressures on commerce with Mr Clarke.

A show of hands at the meeting revealed that there was increased optimism looking ahead although the voluntary and community sector representatives present said they were still being constrained by the impact of cuts to public funding.

Members said they recognised the progress being made on major infrastructure projects and were glad the A46 had reopened and that, once the works were completed, the A453 would provide a better link to the M1 motorway.

The proposed closure of Canal Street, Nottingham, was identified as a source of concern. Mr Clarke said that it was not within his remit to intervene in city council matters. Members then expressed a wish that both local and central government could be more business-friendly.

Mr Clarke was keen to emphasise the need for firms to export, something he repeated on Agenda, saying that he recognised the market potential of countries including Brazil, China and India.

A skills shortage in the workplace, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors and the absence of any electronics/engineering courses available anywhere in the East Midlands, was forcing recruitment from overseas, Mr Clarke was told.

Other matters discussed included the variety of flexibility shown by employers over workers' hours and overtime, discipline at school and the motivation of young people, although some members said they felt school and college leavers were working harder than ever with many volunteering in order to help further their prospects.

DNCC is a strong supporter of the Work Programme, and its Schools Forum exists to broker an employer-led interface that will help the academic curriculum to become more job-focused and vocational in nature.

Members also said they believed entrepreneurship was increasing.

Mr Clarke said he was eager to see export credit being more readily available to smaller firms, something the D2N2 Business Advice portal www.thebusinessadvicewebsite.co.uk (with staffed support) should help in this respect;

It was felt that the planning system was a brake on economic growth, producing delays and blockages by incoming objections that frustrate business initiative. More confidence is needed in a process currently inhibited by lobbying and counter-lobbying.

And it was suggested that while the economy clearly appears to be picking up, the global economic landscape is changing with new and more powerful competitors and business needs to compete harder than ever, with an enterprise-friendly Government working alongside Chambers and their members to guarantee a sustained recovery.