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East Midlands Chamber News

Scott Knowles looks back on 2020

It was a year that started and ends with anxieties over Brexit but, in every other manner, nobody could have predicted what 2020 had in store for us. The huge economic challenges it presented has forced every organisation, including the Chamber, to adapt significantly. Chief executive Scott Knowles reflects on the past 12 months while looking ahead to the next year.

As early signs of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic emerged and the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s departure from the EU rumbled on unabated during the beginning of the 12-month transition period, the Chamber’s activity and support evolved accordingly.

We moved swiftly to introduce our Membership Relief Fund, aimed at supporting those businesses whose cashflow was impacted as lockdown began in March 2020 and will cost the Chamber £100,000 in its first 12 months; virtualised our events and training programmes; and bolstered resources for dealing with support enquiries to ensure businesses maximised local, regional and national support mechanisms available.

While the core of our support services remained – supporting growth, connecting businesses, developing skills, enabling international trade and helping our members influence – our products and services adapted to meet the needs members told us were relevant to them.

Civic duties continue unabated

During 2020, we furthered our commitment to becoming a more civic organisation – a pledge reflected in our vision, “Enhancing East Midlands businesses and communities”.

This activity took various forms, notably through our various skills initiatives, such as the Chamber Schools programme, which seeks to strengthen the relationship between business and education.

While much work has gone into this area of activity, a significant amount remains to be done to ensure skills for the future are compatible with the needs of employers.

Similarly, the Work & Health Programme, for which the Chamber is a local delivery partner, continues to help unemployed individuals into work.

We launched our Generation Next network early in 2020, designed to support the development of the business leaders of tomorrow and the retention of future leadership talent in our three counties.

The Chamber remains a key delivery partner for, among others, the D2N2 Growth Hub and the Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership Business Gateway Growth Hub, ensuring we’re at the heart of providing advice, information and support to our diverse business community.

A key area of development was securing £1.8m ERDF funding to enhance our range of scale-up support services. Digital UpScaler was launched in April 2020 and builds on the success of our UpScaler and Digital Growth Programme schemes. The Chamber has invested £340,000 in this new service to help ambitious growing businesses across the region to maximise digital technologies to improve productivity and growth.

Recent months have involved further evolution as we continue to support members through transition in all its guises – from the changing ways in which we have worked as a result of the pandemic, the imminent end of the transition period with the EU, to the evolving way we work and will do business in the future.

Lobbying Westminster to deliver levelling-up promises

We have continued working with key influencers and decision-makers on a local, regional, national and international scale, demonstrating the three counties’ potential for economic growth and need for investment to achieve this – now dubbed the “levelling up” agenda.

Government data shows that in 2018/19, the East Midlands received £268 in infrastructure investment per capita, worth only 56% of the £481 national average. This is despite our region offering a greater economic return than any other part of the country, so we’ll continue to campaign for more investment in 2021.

This is particularly pertinent with regards to HS2 and the Midland Main Line electrification, which is back on the agenda. The trends exacerbated by Covid-19, such as online shopping, have cemented our position as the logistics hub for the UK, but we still require infrastructure fit for purpose in the 21st century. It’s imperative the Government delivers on pre-pandemic agreed capital projects that will unlock the even greater economic contribution the East Midlands can add nationally and internationally as we enter a new era of global trade.

Within our region, the Chamber has supported the creation of the East Midlands Development Corporation, the leading example of private sector-led investment development that will have a transformative effect on the region over the next few years.

The Chamber remains focused and dedicated to delivering accessible, relevant and intensive support to enable East Midlands businesses to become more resilient and sustainable – to grow, prosper and to support the communities they serve, especially during this time of national challenge.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our members, patrons and strategic partners for their support throughout 2020. Without you, our scope of support wouldn’t be as broad and all-encompassing as it is.

This article appears in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of the Chamber's Business Network magazine. To read the online edition, click here.

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