It takes experience, wisdom and sometimes even a bit of courage to stand back from the frenetic day-to-day environment and see the bigger picture. That or turning off Twitter…
We enter the autumn stretch of the year with typical weather, mixed reports about the state of the economy, patchy performance on the sporting field and what now appears to be routine chaos in politics.
But if we stand back from some of these over-heated headlines then we see some familiar challenges and opportunities: skills, growth, infrastructure, technology, the environment and health. We need to find ways of investing in all of them because all can drive business improvement and growth.
When we stand back from the B-word, it looks like there is an unspoken political consensus around the need to increase public spending in some key areas: health, education, policing and infrastructure are flagged up in so many speeches. Whilst it’s far from clear that government is about to turn the taps back to hot, there is the sense that the search for low-budget efficiency in public services may have reached its limits with voters.
They want to know that the core services they rely on – doctors, hospitals, schools, police and transport - won’t fail them. There is rising acceptance, too, that we need to nurture our environment rather than exploit it.
If there is a mild ‘push’ to increase public spending from central government, there have been signs for some time about a ‘pull’ to secure more investment in the UK’s regions. The further you travel in Wales, the Midlands and the North the more there is a sense that cities and regions want the resources and freedoms to better exploit local economic potential.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that local authorities and NHS trusts have taken an often innovative approach to configuring services and developing partnerships in ways which maximise value. That has created potential.
Here in the East Midlands, while we don’t yet have a devolution deal, we do have an increasingly coherent offer centred on major opportunities supported by cross-regional collaboration. We have industries critical to the UK’s global future who live and breathe innovation and increasing signs that our universities are focusing very hard on regional impact.
Our opportunities should not be defined by where we think the funding streams lie. We need a narrative around the uniqueness of the East Midlands economy and in particular about its international value as a global gateway. This is why infrastructure is so important to us.
There is a part of me that’s deeply disappointed about the naked politicking around HS2. I’ve spent enough time waiting on platforms or standing in trains to know that throwing a few quid at the existing rail network won’t solve its chronic problems. We need to make a substantial, long-term investment in better regional connectivity because there has been a substantial, long-term failure to do just that. Our economy has been held back as a result.
The big picture is looking beyond Brexit. There will be challenges and changes, potentially some disruption. But the appetite for progress among business remains undimmed. We should not allow our future to be clouded by chaotic political narratives.
Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, rather than Twitter.
David Williams, Chairman.
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