More than 50 business professionals gathered yesterday to throw their weight behind proposals for a North Midlands Devolution Deal.
Nottingham Professional Services, a networking organisation which represents businesses who provide services like accountancy, law and recruitment for local industry, hosted a breakfast event at Nottingham Contemporary where members heard about the full range of benefits devolution could bring.
The event was addressed by Ian Curryer, chief executive of Nottingham City Council – one of the 19 local authorities that has been working alongside organisations like D2N2, the local enterprise partnership, to draw up a deal aimed at growing the economies of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Curryer explained why a proposal that had originally been put forwards under the East Midlands banner was now known as the North Midlands Devolution Deal.
He said: “The door has always been open to Leicester and Leicestershire, and part of the original thinking behind an East Midlands deal was that it would coalesce around the three cities and counties.”
“However, Leicester and Leicestershire don’t currently want to join, which is why our deal has now become known as the North Midlands Devolution Deal.
“This is an extremely busy part of the world for manufacturing, for UK trade and exporting. We want to see a situation where we are bringing decision-making back to the local area where people understand the specific needs of that economy. We will be able to tailor services to those needs in a way that central government never will.”
Curryer insisted that the powers contained in a devolution deal would also enable transport investments to be planned in a way which avoided the traffic delays seen when the extension of Nottingham’s tram network coincided with the widening of the A453, and upgrades to the city’s ring road and railway station.
He added: “We were told we had to take the money for those schemes in a particular window, so there was little we could do about the problems we had. If we can secure a 15-year settlement for transport funding under the devolution deal then we can programme works to suit commuters.”
The North Midlands Devolution Deal programme will also pursue plans for a free trade zone near East Midlands Airport. Businesses within the zone would be able to fly in components, turn them into finished goods and then re-export them without paying duties.
The reaction from attendees was encouraging. Simon Gray, chief executive of the Nottingham Means Business organisation, said: “Ian Curryer has mentioned the potential for the deal to be agreed in February, so things are beginning to sound very positive. Businesses will be very encouraged to hear that the region can gain control over budgets and resources.”
Greg Simpson, who runs communications business Press4Attention PR, said: “I’ve helped to run devolution events for similar audiences before, and from the business perspective there has been a lack of understanding of the vision.
“That vision came over very clearly today and if the North Midlands group can get to grips with the key issues and engage with us we will be able to drive that vision as partners, which is crucial to success.”
Andrew Springhall, who chairs Nottingham Professional Services and runs recruitment business Blusource, said: “It is a shame that Leicestershire can’t be involved, but I’m pleased that we’ve been brave enough to stand up and create a regional deal which can take on board the benefits.
“There is a definite need for this. My view is that if you are not part of some regional powerhouse then you are going to be on the wrong side of a divide.”