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East Midlands Chamber News

Like Birmingham and Manchester, East Midlands must find its voice to overturn funding deficit, says D2N2's David Williams

Finding a “voice” should be the priority for the East Midlands in the post-Covid world, believes the interim chairman of the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership.

David Williams, who stepped into the role in June from his previous deputy role, believes the region has never truly been able to present a united front when attempting to secure investment from both Government and the private sector.

But with Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to “levelling up” the economy outside London and the South East, this provides the East Midlands with a great opportunity to reverse its position as having the lowest levels of capital investment in the country.

Speaking to Business Network magazine, the chairman of law firm Geldards said: “In recent times, it gets trapped between the noise of the Midlands Engine – which is Birmingham-centric – and the Northern Powerhouse.

“We’re the bit in the middle, but a very substantial bit in the middle with a large economy, some very successful businesses and a huge population.

“So D2N2 is committed to building up a view – particularly in the minds of politicians – of what the East Midlands is and what is wants. This means that when we come to funding rounds, we can say to MPs ‘here’s a list of projects and these are what we need lobbying for’.

“And there’s been some really good lobbying from the public and private sectors to say what this patch wants and what its ambitions are.”

Getting Building Fund success for D2N2 offers example of future East Midlands collaboration

This was evident when D2N2 was able to demonstrate some “shovel-ready” schemes that would help the local economy and create jobs when the Government announced a plan to “build, build, build” in the so-called “New Deal” nationwide recovery programme.

It resulted in the LEP receiving a £44.4m share of the £900m Getting Building Fund – the sixth largest allocation in the country – which will be spent on projects including the £300m SmartParc hi-tech food manufacturing campus in Derby.

The Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) was also awarded £20m.

David, who was also a board member of Derby County from 2017 to 2019, draws comparisons with the famous Winston Churchill quote to “never waste a good crisis” and believes the East Midlands has proven itself to be “sufficiently credible” to receive this money.

He adds: “We’ve had companies like Rolls-Royce enduring issues not of their making, which is causing them to make a substantial number of redundancies.

“We have all these skilled people coming out of employment to find roles for, as well as a piece of the UK’s crown jewels in advanced manufacturing here, so we have to support this sector and put it back stronger in the future.

“We’re trying to make a positive out of what’s a really difficult situation for a lot of people.

“The urgent thing to do is signpost those people to future careers and replace the jobs that will be lost – but not to replace them with more low-wage, low-skilled jobs, but equipping them with the skills for higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs.”

One sector with particular potential for the East Midlands is the green economy. With the travails of 2020 coming hot on the heels of the Extinction Rebellion movement and a renewed purpose for sustainability, much emphasis has been placed on how the post-Covid recovery should be green.

David says: “The opportunities in this area to genuinely build an economy on green energy really are strong.”

An issue that could be set to return is devolution. Plans to unite Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire – as well as potentially Lincolnshire – faltered due to disagreements over adopting the elected mayor model established in Manchester and Birmingham.

The idea was brought back to the table in 2018 after research showed the East Midlands received the lowest Government spending per head on economic development and transport – with rail expenditure at £91 per person, compared to £746 per person in London – but there has been little progress since the four counties agreed to explore a “strategic alliance”.

David believes it is crucial to the region’s future prosperity, adding: “It’s clear that funding follows a devolution deal. You can relate that to the failure to find a voice because areas like the Northern Powerhouse, Birmingham, Sheffield and obviously London have a voice to speak for them.

“In the East Midlands, we don’t have that personality or character yet. I’m not certain we will find one, or be willing to find one, so making the most of what we have is down to the LEPs.

“If everything happens that we’re hoping for, we can see a picture for our patch that’s quite encouraging."

 

David Williams' interview featured in the August/September edition in Business Network magazine, which is now available to read here.

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