Norfolk business community must promote itself to progress, say MPs

PUBLISHED: 17:29 02 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:29 02 February 2018

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce MP conference. MPs left to right, Richard Bacon, George Freeman, Chloe Smith and Sir Henry Bellingham.

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce MP conference. MPs left to right, Richard Bacon, George Freeman, Chloe Smith and Sir Henry Bellingham. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

If Norfolk was a business, what actions would we take to develop and promote it?

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce's MP conference. Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorfolk Chamber of Commerce's MP conference. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

This was the question posed by a panel of the county’s MPs during a discussion of the impediments to growth for its business community, and how to unleash its potential.

The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce’s MPs Event saw discussions of Norfolk’s recent successes and what it may need to progress to the next stage, including addressing the “perennial” problems of skills and infrastructure.

Compered by British Chambers of Commerce director general Dr Adam Marshall, the panel comprised Richard Bacon, George Freeman, Sir Henry Bellingham and Chloe Smith.

Mid Norfolk MP and former businessman Mr Freeman said the county needed to be more business-minded.

“There is how we project ourselves within Norfolk and how we promote ourselves to others outside Norfolk,” he said.

“We have to behave more like a business, with a clear brand and a clear message. We still have a problem despite all our progress.

“Norfolk does not feel like an innovative, enterprising business county. We are repeating an idea of Norfolk as an old, quiet place to escape the world, but we have to tell our young people that this county is leading in sectors like tech and life sciences.”

He added that the county should be more aspirational. “It is about our education, our culture, us in Norfolk out for our own.”

South Norfolk MP Mr Bacon resurrected an idea coined by former Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, of East Anglia as “the new California” – a reference to its growing tech credentials.

“With the cluster at Cambridge, Norwich Research Park, and BT Martlesham – which has one of highest concentrations of telecommunications researchers in Europe – we have the makings of an extraordinary growing economy in the East,” he said.

“It is the region as a whole that is going to grab the world’s attention.”

Ms Smith, in whose constituency the event at Holiday Inn Norwich North was held, said Norfolk needed to “create success in a big way”, likening it to the UK’s mission to promote itself on the global stage during the Brexit negotiations.

“There is an opportunity to help business in general continue to success and thrive. We need to work together to make sure Norwich, Norfolk and the East are attractive and productive,” she said.

Addressing the skills problem

The panel agreed that finding and keeping talent was a “perennial” problem for businesses.

Chloe Smith, who chairs the Norwich for Jobs steering committee, said: “We need to make sure Norfolk is an attractive place for people to come. Encouraging mobility means you can increase your aspiration.”

Sir Henry Bellingham, West Norfolk MP, said education about the opportunities available could be as valuable as education itself.

“We need to get schools involved, to get students interested in working with local businesses,” he said.

“We have to teach young people there are opportunities here, and teach them to start from the bottom. Getting children to understand what industry and business is about at an early stage is vitally important.”

Richard Bacon added there could be scope for MPs to help to better connect schools and businesses to “ensure as much access to opportunity as possible”.

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