Conference for Growth
6th March 2013
On 8th February the Sheffield City Region Chambers hosted their second Conference for Growth at Doncaster Racecourse.
The flagship event attracted 250 senior business leaders, key politicians and a range of top public sector decision makers who came together to debate the future of the regional and national economy. The event was designed to stimulate robust debate between local businesses the wealth creators, and the decision makers both in Westminster and Local Government about what needs to be done to grow the City Region's economy. Prior to the event a number of hot topics were on delegates' lips, including: How can we regenerate our High Streets? Which airport does the region get behind? Are the banks open for business? How do we brand and promote the region? What red tape should Government get rid of? The Chambers attracted a stellar list of speakers and panellists for the event including: Michael Fallon MP (Minister of State for Business and Enterprise), Rosie Winterton MP (Opposition Chief Whip and Doncaster Central MP), Dan Jarvis (Shadow Culture Minister and Barnsley MP), Justin Urquhart Stewart (Economist), Jo Miller (CEO, DMBC) James Newman and Ben Still (Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership), Neil MacDonald (Master Cutler) and representatives from a range of key businesses such as: DLA, William Beckett Plastics, Plus Net, Brewster Pratap and Doncaster Sheffield Airport. The speakers and panellists faced a volley of questions from the private sector audience with local business leaders seizing the opportunity to get their voices heard and influence the future of the regional economy. Key comments included the need for banks to play the long game, the need to offer more support for exporters, the need to galvanise the region behind High Speed Rail and need for Local Authorities to procure more goods and from local firms. The main event opened with a keynote speech by the Minister for Business and Enterprise, Michael Fallon MP. Fallon said that local firms should be under no illusions that Government was intent on reducing the deficit and implied that austerity would be here to stay. He was, however, full of praise for the City Region and complemented the LEP on its achievements to date. Fallon was followed by Justin Urquhart Stewart who, resplendent in red braces, gave the audience far more reasons to be cheerful. Offering his unique take on the global economy Urquhart Stewart reminded delegates that, despite the prevalent atmosphere of doom and gloom, the global economy was currently growing at a rate of 3% per year and that whilst the UK was damaged its economy was not at all doomed. There followed a number of engaging panel debates with speakers and contributors being resolutely bullish about the region's economic prospects in the mid term. One of the most engaging sessions, however, did not involve the headline speakers but two very different entrepreneurs. Dr Alex Mardapittas, Managing Director of EMSc Ltd, spoke with passion about the power of the Made in Sheffield brand and the advantage that it affords the region's engineers and manufacturers when competing in a global market. Mike Wilkinson, co-founder of pioneering e-learning company i-education made a number of trenchant comments. Firstly, having recently secured a deal to supply software to schools in Malaysia, he reinforced the scale of the opportunities available to businesses seeking to grow outside of the UK. Secondly, he stressed the importance of radically overhauling the UK's education sector saying that schools must keep up with an ever changing economy and ever developing technology. The event, concluded with a keynote speech by the Opposition Chief Whip Rosie Winterton MP. Winterton outlined Labour's commitment to working with business and called for more resource to be given to Local Enterprise Partnerships. She also challenged the Government for its lack of clarity and strategy on Europe views that received significant endorsement from the audience. In the coming weeks the four Chambers of Commerce in the City Region: Barnsley & Rotherham, Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and Sheffield will be publishing their 2013 Manifesto for Growth. The document will be largely based on the views of businesses as aired at the event and will outline the Chambers' collective lobbying and policy priorities for the year ahead. The document will be sent to every regional MP and other key decision makers stating what the business community thinks needs to be done to stimulate growth and wealth creation. Business won't be asking for the public sector for hand outs or leg ups. The private sector knows that it carries the responsibility for creating growth. However, government can play a helping hand by delivering the infrastructure, skill and conditions needed by business to succeed. The City Region is a great place to visit, live, work and invest but, if the views of local business leaders are heeded, it can become even better. No one at the event was confident enough to predict green shoots, but by pulling together top decision makers from around the region with prolific Members of Parliament the Chambers would be confident enough to say that the seeds of growth have now been sown.