Government funding should be targeted on upskilling existing workforces, not jobs creation, MP Sir Patrick McLoughlin has been told.
It was one of several messages delivered by local firms at an MPs breakfast briefing, co-hosted by the East Midlands Chamber and Business Peak District.
Sir Patrick, MP for Derbyshire Dales, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was also told that local business leaders were concerned about continued support for rural enterprise and the heritage sector once the UK leaves the EU.
Of particular concern were continuation of Leader and Defra funding in the region, which has the 12th-lowest unemployment claimant rate in the country.
Members said they felt that rather than support job-creation, funding ought to be targeted instead towards upskilling, creating higher-value jobs and investment in new plant and machinery, thereby addressing productivity issues, encouraging innovation and boosting turnover.
The significance of the tourism/hospitality sector, and its contribution toward the local economy, was also highlighted, especially the growing market of Chinese tourists the region is trying to attract.
Concerns over ease of planning were also raised. About 45% of the constituency is inside the boundaries of the Peak District National Park, which makes planning permission very difficult for the business community.
Businesses also raised fears of a perceived marginalisation of the area by the local enterprise partnerships, a lack of availability of suitable premises for growing SMEs to expand into and the negative effects of the business rates revaluations.
On infrastructure matters, Sir Patrick, who had reinstated electrification of the Midland Main Line when he was Transport Secretary, was challenged about the electrification,
On Midland Main Line electrification, Sir Patrick said removing bottlenecks on the route, such as Belper and Leicester, made it too expensive.
He also alluded to other infrastructure improvements including HS2, Crossrail 2, changing route priorities of trains through Derby station and the completion next year of the Ashbourne bypass.
He added that the bi-mode trains, which will start plying the route when the new franchise is let, “will make all the difference”.
Businesses around the table countered that pleasing as an HS2 connection to Chesterfield might be, north-south connectivity is already decent but east-west is problematic with trains from Nottingham to Birmingham taking 72 minutes for the 50-mile journey compared with 100 minutes for the 126-mile rail trip to London.
The meeting was held at The Arkwright Society, at the Cromford Mills site near Matlock, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cromford Mills filled its tenancies extremely quickly through provision of a superfast broadband connection that is in short supply elsewhere within this rural constituency, Sir Patrick was told.
Afterwards, Sir Patrick said he found the meeting “informative”.