Norfolk MPs put on the spot by business leaders

Norfolk MPs Simon Wright, Chloe Smith, George Freeman and Henry Bellingham join Norfolk Chamber of C

Norfolk MPs Simon Wright, Chloe Smith, George Freeman and Henry Bellingham join Norfolk Chamber of Commerce president Ian Hacon and CEO Caromine Williams at the MPs Event at Dunstan Hall.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

More than 160 business people took the chance to put their Westminster representatives on the spot at Norfolk Chamber's annual MPs event.

MPs Chloe Smith, Simon Wright, Henry Bellingham and George Freeman all addressed yesterday afternoon's conference at Dunston Hall, Norwich, focusing on their personal areas of expertise.

Meanwhile, delegates were given the chance to air issues ranging from broadband deficiencies and poor transport connections to obstacles to trade and growth. The idea was to give MPs food for thought to take back to parliament with them.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith gave an update on Norwich For Jobs, the drive she has led to cut youth unemployment, and also outlined the ways the coalition government has helped young people, from improving the county's schools' funding formula to 'revitalising an old currency' in fostering apprentices.

Miss Smith added that Norfolk's team of MPs had also worked together to bring investment such as that for the recently announced aviation academy at Norwich airport.


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Richard Bridgeman, chairman of Warren Services, applauded her efforts with Norwich For Jobs but said: 'To move it forward we need to focus on work experience. It is an opportunity for all of us.' He stressed it was essential as many young people did not have a clue about the workplace when they started.

James Mason, of Norfolk Training Services, said more work needed to be done to connect young people with opportunities as there were 1,300 NEAT (not in education, apprenticeships or training) young people in Norfolk at the same time as businesses were struggling to fill vacancies.

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Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman gave a progress report on improving broadband and mobile phone coverage but admitted there was still a lot of work to do to deliver adequate speeds for businesses to function in the countryside 'to make a much more vibrant rural economy'.

Archant boss Johnny Hustler told Mr Freeman government needed to be far tougher with BT and oblige it contractually to hurry up and deliver adequate broadband to the last 5pc of customers.

Helen Bailey, from Blickling Hall, said: 'A key thing is there is an awful lot of secrecy about who is doing what and when the broadband will be delivered to businesses in different areas.'

Another point made from the floor was that the issue was not just about providing adequate broadband for rural areas - serious speeds were needed to service such customers as Norwich's technology industries.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright told the conference that SMEs were an important driver of the growth now taking place in the UK economy.

And he highlighted all the ways in which the government had aided business from supporting skills and investing in infrastructure to cutting red tape and freeing lending through such initiatives as the British Business Bank.

Steven Woodcock, MD of Allman Woodcock, said MPs should look at removing the hurdles that prevented SMEs competing with larger firms when it came to public sector procurement, but was told that the Small Business Bill was already addressing it.

In response to Keith Betts, of Lean Management Training, Mr Wright said the same Bill would also address the issue of slow payments stifling SMEs.

West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham raised the importance of exports in cutting the budget deficit - and highlighted the fact only 20pc of SMEs in the UK exported compared to 25pc in France and Germany.

James Hunter, of Mills and Reeves, raised the issue of whether the government's approach to student visas was damaging trading relationships.

Are there issues holding your business back? Email stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk

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