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East Midlands Chamber News

Outgoing Chamber President Highlights Key Business Issues

Liz Fothergill CBEPlacing business at the heart of devolution, closing the skills gap, championing the East Midlands and having a rational debate about the EU are the four key issues the outgoing President of the East Midlands Chamber* believes should be prioritised in the year ahead.

Liz Fothergill CBE, who is also Chairman of the Board at Derby-based medical devices manufacturer Pennine Healthcare, stands down as Chamber President at its annual general meeting today (Wed 4 Nov).

For one of her last official duties, she outlined four key areas that the Chamber believes the Government and local decision-makers must address to drive future regional - and national - economic growth:

1) Ensure the business voice is central to any devolution deal

Liz Fothergill: “Talks with Government to devolve a raft of powers from Whitehall to the East Midlands have reached a critical juncture and it’s crucial that business remains central to any developments on this agenda.

“Local businesses broadly support devolution which, if done properly, will deliver greater efficiency, accountability, and better results. However, it must be done for sound business reasons, not just for political gain.

“As the East Midlands devolution agenda progresses, there is a clear need to ensure the business voice is not diluted when it comes to giving local communities more control over their own destinies, as it is business that will create the jobs and generate the growth needed to drive the economy.

“Businesses will champion the completion of a devolution deal, but will do so only on the understanding that once a deal is agreed, business engagement will remain central to its implementation.”

2) Ramp-up efforts to further close the skills gap

Liz Fothergill: “A key component of future business success is a first-class education system. The present system fails too many young people, who leave school ill-equipped for the realities of the workplace.

“While there have been some positive developments on this critically-important issue for business, these are yet to translate into meaningful outcomes.

“Government must continue to make the skills and training agenda a core component of its growth strategy to ensure that the labour market meets the needs of local business.

“More needs to be done to embed business engagement, in all its forms, throughout the curriculum, alongside activity that builds character, resilience, problem-solving, team work and leadership skills into learning.

“Schools, colleges and businesses also have an important role to play in continuing to work together to ensure a better match between the outputs of schools and colleges and the needs of the private sector, to ensure students of all abilities can reach their full potential and stand the best chance of getting into employment.”

3) Recognise that the East Midlands is a primary driver of economic growth in the UK

Liz Fothergill: “The main theme of my year in office was to really fly the flag for the East Midlands as a great place to do business. We have plenty of things to be proud of in this region and we mustn’t be afraid to shout from the rooftops about how we truly are the heartbeat of the UK economy.

“The past 12 months have seen the national economy take huge strides forward and much of the progress it has made is down to the growth generated by the East Midlands and in particular, our three great cities and counties.

“We are extremely fortunate to have such a well-balanced regional economy, with real strengths in manufacturing and engineering, the service sector, construction, transport and logistics, life sciences, low carbon, and travel and tourism.

“As a passionate manufacturer myself, it’s been extremely pleasing to see the momentum the economy, both locally and nationally, has built over the past year, and particularly the role the sector has played in driving exports, one of my passions and an area where the Chamber is so active in supporting exporters.

“The UK will thrive only if the Midlands Engine for Growth – of which the East Midlands is a significant driver – is firing on all cylinders, so it’s important that future economic and business policy is balanced, holistic and takes into account the important role that this region plays in driving economic growth and job creation.”

4) Ensure the EU debate remains free from “misdirection, rhetoric and spin”

Liz Fothergill: “Business leaders are following the debate about the UK’s future relationship with the EU closely. As the world’s largest single market – and our closest neighbour - Europe will always be a key trading partner for the UK.

“With a significant number of businesses likely to be influenced by the content – and outcome – of the Prime Minister's planned renegotiation package, it is important that as much information and detail as possible is presented to business and the wider electorate.

“The Chamber is committed to representing the broad range of views from members and to inform businesses of the facts, from both sides of the argument.

“It’s essential that voters are given the evidence and information they need to make a rational, informed, fact-based decision on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, rather than just be fed a diet of misdirection, rhetoric and spin in the run-up to the ballot. The Government, in short, must really up its game in terms of communicating with and listening to businesses on this vital issue.”