Fightback East: Norfolk must get ready for post-Covid recovery
- Credit: Archant
The darkest days of the Covid pandemic might still be ahead of us.
But, argues business editor Richard Porritt, the fightback must start right now to ensure the East is ready to capitalise.
The North will be ready. The Midlands will be ready. London will be ready. But will the East?
For too long this region has been in the shadows.
We have quietly gone about our business and not moaned when government has repeatedly overlooked us.
The reasons for this are numerous. There have been times when the business community has been let down by our MPs. They have been times when we have not helped ourselves.
This newspaper has long argued this state of affairs cannot continue. And the pandemic that has ravaged our lives has quickened the need for a robust response.
That is why today we are launching Fightback East.
It is vital to get an ambitious manifesto together now. Even though the government is fighting daily fires recovery must be central to the thinking in Westminster.
So we are calling on our MPs to get behind this endeavour and we will in the coming weeks and months be asking them to take this rallying cry right to the steps of Number 10.
It is our job to hold our elected representatives to account. And we will not be pulling any punches. It is time for the East’s MPs to prove their worth. It is time to step up and we will be reminding people of their part in this great effort come election time.
Business groups like our Chambers of Commerce and the Local Enterprise Partnership do sterling work. We will also be asking them to step up and never take “no” for an answer when it comes to the fight to improve lives and livelihoods here in the East.
The reaction of the East’s business community to the coronavirus outbreak was spectacular. The innovation and imagination we have seen in this region in the last 12 months has been nothing short of extraordinary.
And it is that magic mixed with hard graft that makes the East such a great place to live and work.
But CEOs and talented workforces alone cannot get the region to where it deserves to be.
Once again we need to consider whether an elected mayor for the East of England is a desirable route. Many local politicians might not like that idea. Many will fear their personal fiefdoms would diminish in importance.
These are tough decisions and there will need to be changes and casualties along the way.
But bear this in mind: As it stands the elected mayors of the devolved regions have a hotline to Number 11.
Periodically they are given the opportunity to pitch for cash for their own devolved regions. No-one from the East is in those conversations.
The East needs to be banging on the door of Number 11 and telling Rishi Sunak what the East needs repeatedly, again and again until he is sick of hearing about the A47, the A14, full fibre broadband and our frankly disgusting history of criminal levels of social mobility.
The point of Fightback East is to build the pressure. It fills a vacuum. And with the help of vital partners, including the Chambers, the voice of the East will grow until it becomes deafening. And it needs to be in order to compete with Red Wall Conservative seats.
Recently we received some central government money and there were celebrations. I wasn’t toasting our success. I was demanding more. A few million here and there is not going to touch the sides.
I doubt any boss reading this will be opposed. But some are. Some people here in the East like the status quo. Their view is that life is pretty good here. They are right. But we cannot stand still and hope it stays that way because it won’t.
In recent years firms have quit our region because of the lack of infrastructure. Jobs and lives ruined and opportunities for future generations gone forever. We cannot simply sit back and watch this happen time and again.
Each week in The Business we will be taking the fight to Westminster. We care deeply about the East and this newspaper is ready for a scrap.
The fightback starts now.
Paul Simon, head of communications and policy at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce said: “As the leading pro-business body in the county, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce wholeheartedly backs the Fightback East campaign.
“There is a very clear overlap between the campaign’s objectives and our manifesto as we both seek to ensure that the total potential of Suffolk and the eastern region is unleashed to en-sure that we can make the fullest, sustained contribution possible to the recovery and renewal of the national economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Suffolk Chamber is asking the government to give us the tools to do the job and the business community will do the rest. But this means that our road, rail and connectivity networks must be brought up to world-beating standards, that we have an education system that supports both students and those already into their careers to be as agile and work-ready as possible and a culture where entrepreneurialism is not held back by an out-of-date tax system and attitudes that hold back our international trading opportunities.
“Without the East of England receiving the investment it deserves, the government’s levelling up agenda will be stuck on the drawing board for decades to come. We will do our part in fully backing the Fightback East campaign.”
New Anglia LEP chairwoman CJ Green said: “Our region’s voice needs to be heard loud and clear and the LEP is already working closely with local and national partners to ensure businesses receive the support they need to recover from Covid and adapt post-Brexit.
“In the longer term, our clear focus remains securing investment for capital infrastructure and skills so we can grow our world-leading sectors and capitalise on our economy’s huge potential.”
Chris Sargisson, Norfolk Chambers of Commerce chief executive, added: “We all know that Norfolk has so much to offer and should be correctly viewed as one of the most important regions in the UK.
“We lead the way on renewable energy, put food on many tables, and have world-changing science, research and development creating planet-saving innovation. The UK needs our region to succeed.
“Our businesses are incredibly resourceful, with many demonstrating resilient behaviours, by quickly learning new ways to do things, pivoting and seeking out new opportunities through what has been, and still remains the most challenging of times.
“To ensure the best future outcomes for every Norfolk business and the UK, requires us to work as closely and transparently as possible to empower our MPs with the insight to support the creation of a robust, dynamic and regionally-specific recovery plan.
“Through collaboration and support, we can develop the solutions needed to make sure that every Norfolk business has a voice and every Norfolk business has the support they need to re-cover and strengthen their organisation and deliver more jobs and economic growth for our region.”