Custom Solar’s Managing Director – Matthew Brailsford takes part in local Round Table event to express his views.
CHAMPIONS ROUND TABLE
Champions discuss region’s growth plans
Graeme Huston – Editor, Derbyshire Times (Chair)
Scott Knowles – Deputy Chief Executive, Derbyshire Nottinghamshire & Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce
Chris Ash – Senior Partner, Evolution Training
Paul Beeson – Senior Partner, Shorts Chartered Accountants
Matthew Brailsford – Managing Director, Custom Solar
Paul Champion – Assistant Principal, Chesterfield College
Ian Benison – Chief Executive, SLIC Training
In July Sheffield City Region (SCR) and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2) received a £554.4m investment package to accelerate economic growth.
The investment will help deliver infrastructure, skills and businesses located in SCR and D2N2, supporting long-term economic growth in Derbyshire through the creation of around 8,000 jobs and the construction of 5,000 homes.
Five thousand of these jobs are expected to be created at Markham Vale, where funding has been allocated to open the Seymour Link road in 2016/17 and expand the Enterprise Zone further.
Additional projects that will be supported in North Derbyshire through the funding include Chesterfield Waterside, improvements to the A61 corridor, Markham Vale, investment in the University of Derby’s campus in the town and the development of Skills Bank.
The Round Table came together to discuss how the funding will directly benefit Chesterfield and North Derbyshire; the importance and impact of the support of the proposed infrastructure projects for North Derbyshire.
Q1. What are your views on the Growth Plans announced for The Local Enterprise Partnership for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2) and Sheffield City Region (SCR) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)? How will this funding benefit Chesterfield and North Derbyshire?
Graeme: How do you feel the new growth deals will benefit Chesterfield specifically?
Matthew: There definitely seems to be a lot of expansion and employment in the area, Markham Vale for one, but it does seem that all the funding seems to go to larger projects.
Scott: There’s a lot of funding available to businesses in Chesterfield, but not everyone knows about it. For instance, we also have Global Derbyshire which provides funding for SMEs, and more of these projects are coming through soon.
Paul B: But is the Local Growth Fund going to be seen by small businesses too? In Chesterfield we have our feet in both camps – SCR and D2N2, but are we making enough of an impact in either camp to be noticed? I did a straw poll in our office asking who knew what funding was out there, and nobody knew anything. There’s a big communication gap between businesses and the people who give out the funding.
Chris: I agree. I think we get mixed messages from SCR and D2N2.
Graeme: There is evidence of serious effort from them to try and communicate to the business community of the various funding streams and grants available.
Matthew: Aside from funding, schemes like Destination Chesterfield are great. The business community should take a certain amount of responsibility and share information amongst itself. Destination Chesterfield is a great forum for businesses to discuss issues just like we are today, and we need to actively encourage more businesses to join.
Ian: Working together locally towards a more connected business community is great. As a collective maybe we could use that clout to make an impact with SCR and D2N2 and channel funding to something that would benefit the wider community long term– the development of a Vocational Hub for instance, that would prepare students for work by putting them in a real work environment. Clients are telling us that there’s a big skills gap in the market. There’s a difference in being great at academia, and being a great candidate for employment.
Matthew: There’s definitely a skills gap. Even in the renewable energy industry, which is relatively new, there’s a skills gap emerging. We need to future proof our industries, so I think we have a responsibility to help young people be what we need them to be.
Graeme: What sort of skills do we think need to be developed in the future?
Matthew: We need to look at emerging industries and teach it now. For instance, in Japan, they’re teaching robotics to children in schools now. We’re not doing anything like that, so we’re going to keep having a skills gap until we take a risk.
Ian: I think schools are too focused on academia. We should start choices much earlier and personalise them to each child, to maximise their strengths and iron out their weaknesses.
Chris: Careers advice needs to be reinstated in schools. Unfortunately teachers are measured and target on students who gain academic qualification and go on to college and university. But it’s the not necessarily the best thing for the children anymore. They need to be aware of the different vocational options they have.
Matthew: Should be focusing on Languages? It looks so bad if you’re a person who travels internationally for business but you can only speak English.
Scott: DNCC delivers a service that puts international bilingual students on placements in the workplace. It’s becoming increasingly successful as more companies do business internationally. Being bilingual is an important skill to have in each company’s skill set and this is supported by key messages from Government, which seem to be around export.
There does always seem to be a lot of funding available but in my experience it’s difficult to access.
Paul C: Colleges only exist if employers exist; it’s that simple. We have to second guess what employers want. We’d definitely welcome more communication between us and businesses because we want to know what you need in potential employees. If you know you’ve got a skills gap emerging, come and talk to us and we can do our best to put together courses that bridge that gap in the future. If we do this I think, in Chesterfield, we could be the first town in Britain to abolish youth unemployment. Unlike many areas of the UK, in Chesterfield we have the permission to be ambitious.
Matthew: As businesses could do more to communicate with further education providers and work together to bridge this skills gap. What is important is talking to the kids about what they want to do to. There’s no point us going into colleges and telling them what we want if there’s no communication with the students.
Paul B: In terms of youth unemployment, we’ve got to have vibrant businesses to be able to give jobs – I think it’s just as much about helping businesses to be the best they can be, as it is about helping students.
Ian: This funding could help solve a long-term skills gap and provide and a market or ready and willing employees, but is there enough office space and supporting infrastructure to accommodate expanding companies?
Graeme: Do you think there’s a shortage of office space?
Matthew: There is shortage of appropriate SME office space. There are massive projects like Markham Vale, or there’s Innovation/Incubation Centres for start-ups, but there’s nothing in between. Markham Vale seems a missed opportunity for smaller SME office space.
Scott: This building (Derbyshire Times) is a great example of one that houses SMEs. We could also all benefit from an improvement in Broadband for businesses.
Ian: I completely agree. Since moving offices to Chesterfield town centre our Broadband speed has halved. We love the new offices, but the broadband is appalling.
Matthew: There’s no point of having this funding if it all goes to national companies to deliver the projects however.
Ian: Is there a way we could lobby for contracts to be given to local companies, as part of how the funding is distributed? With a number of big construction projects on the horizon; Waterside, the Seymour link road, etc. Do we have the skills locally to staff this ourselves rather than awarding the contract to large national companies?
Matthew: I think Chesterfield should only offer contracts to local companies.
Chris: One of the big barriers to this is the fact that big national companies have the resources, and manpower to complete the bid process associated with tendering for work – most of them would probably have a team dedicated to it! This makes it difficult for local companies, who simply don’t have that resource, to compete.
Paul C: That should be our responsibility, as skills providers, to help SMEs develop their skills to be able to fill out tenders just as easily as the national companies do.
Matthew: With public sector contracts, profit seems to be a dirty word. Big projects will go to the lowest bidder, irrespective of whether they’re local, because they don’t want the local community to think they’re wasting their money when, in actual fact, the money is ploughed back into the community through the creation of jobs.
Ian: If contracts went to local businesses there would be less unemployment. If a local company knew they were guaranteed a contract they could expand their business to support it. The cost of employment is high and puts companies off trying to recruit more staff. Using the funding to support the growth of businesses in this way would be beneficial.
Chris: Funding is around for job creation, but the barriers are very high. For example you have to prove you have a minimum of a £100,000 project on the books.
Scott: Business start-up loans are also available again. Businesses struggle to find this information because we’re in the middle of two LEP areas and people don’t know who to go to. The information is out there, but it needs to be clearer and easier to access.
Paul C: What do people think about the University of Derby coming to Chesterfield?
Paul B: How can it not have a positive impact? Having a university in the town brings a certain cache with it.
Matthew: The focus on manufacturing is good news too. That’s what Chesterfield is best at.
Q2. In June we have seen job claimant figures fall to the lowest levels in Chesterfield since summer 2008. As local businesses how do you feel the economy is performing and are you optimistic for the future?
The number of Jobseekers Allowance claimants in Chesterfield fell by 147 and Derbyshire fell by more than 900 in June, providing further evidence that the local economy is strengthening. The Job Seekers’ Allowance Claimant Count for June 2014 stood at 1,693 Chesterfield and 8,872 in Derbyshire, down from 1,840 and 9,613 respectively in May. There are now 714 fewer claimants in the town and 4,088 fewer claimants in the county than a year ago.
Chris: If the figures are true, and they’ve not been manipulated to make a good news story, then that’s great! We’re definitely seeing more employers who are keen to invest in training and employment. But then, conversely, we’ve got a shortage of appropriate candidates for positions.
Ian: We feel the same. Is it that schools aren’t communicating the opportunities and skills needed for positions?
Paul C: Maybe we need to change the status of apprenticeships in schools. In the business community they’re not seen as a negative thing at all.
Paul B: If businesses are doing well they will expand and employ. So we need to make sure businesses can do well. Certainly in Chesterfield the manufacturing, service and construction sectors are all doing well. However, the retail sector is weaker.
Matthew: Custom Solar has definitely experienced a better year this year. We’re even starting to see banks lending large amounts to potential clients again.
Paul B: I completely disagree. Banks are not lending to the people who need it. They’re biased to sectors such as health, because they know they’re going to get return. Banks are completely risk averse, they’ve been knocking on the doors of my clients who are doing well and don’t need the money. They could be helping the businesses that need the boost.
Ian: I feel optimistic about the future of the town, and I’ll feel more so if all of these big projects that have been in the pipeline for ages actually come off.
Paul B: These projects always have controversy surrounding them, like the Hornsbridge Island sculpture. People can be negative about it, but at the end of the day, it’s a local artist who has designed the sculpture and a local contractor building it. I think it’s great.
Paul C: I agree. It’ll be great. People always said that the Angel of the North would be a waste of money, but now it’s a landmark. It shows how important art is to an area.
Ian: Chesterfield is a really popular destination for tourists. My daughter runs the café in the Market Hall and recently did a visitor survey. 80% of visitors were from out of town. That just shows that the negativity is only felt by local people. Maybe we need to appreciate more what we’ve got, because outsiders do!
Matthew: I’m optimistic for the future. I think retail in the town centre will flourish once again. People need to shop local to make it happen though!
Graeme: Chesterfield is different to other towns and cities. Its combination of good road links, amenities like the Market Hall, a great town centre, Ravenside retail park etc. and the Peak District on the doorstep, makes it stand out and provides very real reasons for people to work here and live here.