Businesses have been urged to throw their weight behind the proposals for a North Midlands Devolution Deal because of its significant potential to boost the economy.
The Deal is currently being negotiated with Government by a team representing 19 local authorities across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, Derby and Derbyshire, and offers the prospect of bringing key aspects of the regional economy under local control.
It came under the spotlight at an Economic Forum organised by the business-to-business magazine Midlands Insider, which brought together a high-profile panel of business people, local authority representatives and academics which discussed devolution and other issues in front of an invited audience.
Among the panelists was David Ralph, the Chief Executive of Local Enterprise Partnership D2N2, which is involved in putting together the deal.
Mr Ralph told the audience at the sell-out event: “My view is that we have a vibrant regional economy that has some very strong businesses within it. I think those businesses do need to get behind this deal and show their support, not just because it has the potential to grow our economy but also because we don’t want our region to get left behind.”
He was supported by Sir David Greenaway, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, who said the message about devolution should get out to as many people as possible.
“If we want people to care and to get out and push for this then they need to known what is in this for them – for them, their kids, their ageing parents,” said Sir David. “There has to be a compelling story for them.”
Ian Curryer, the Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council, one of the partners in the devolution deal, added: “We published the details of our proposed deal just after Christmas because we want people to know what this means for them.
“One of the biggest issues which small and medium-sized businesses raise with us is the need for support in getting the right skills. Devolution could help us fill that skills gap by giving business a say in which courses are available through further education colleges.
“It could also give us a 15-year settlement over transport funding, which would enable us to deliver infrastructure over a period which suited the local economy rather than doing it all in one go because Government says we have to spend the money now.
“We are also pushing for a housing investment fund, which will not be available in other devolution deals.”
Councillor Nick McDonald, who holds the portfolio for jobs and growth at the City Council, was also one of the panelists at the Forum. He said: “Devolution is a potential game-changer for the people of the North Midlands.
“If you look at what happens in other countries, there is a direct correlation between those cities and regions that have control over their own affairs and their economic growth rates. Whitehall may not want to give up control over powers and budgets, but that is what we are asking them to do.
“The case for North Midlands Devolution and the positive impact it could have on the regional economy is too compelling for it not to happen.”
Businessman Mark Sanders is part of the team behind a major new investment in technology businesses in Nottingham. He told the Forum: “If the outcome of this deal is engagement across the region in making decisions which allows the region to become more competitive and more attractive to individuals and employers then that is clearly a good thing.
“We would see Nottinghamshire as a place we would continue to want to be part of. We would be disappointed if something happened which meant it slipped behind.”
John Proctor, of the commercial property consultancy FHP, also voiced support for the benefits of devolution. He said: “The regional significance of Nottingham, linked to the advanced engineering skills of Derby, needs to be promoted because we have a very strong collective offer.”
Simon Gray, the Chief Executive of Nottingham Means Business, added: “We need to position ourselves in a unique way and shout from the rooftops about why the North Midlands is an important place to do business, and the skills provisions in the devolution deal are particularly important.”