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East Midlands is the UK economy’s bellwether

davidralphcroppedLast month Nottingham welcomed Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England for his first public, on-the-record speech. Hosted by our friends at the Institute of Directors, the Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses and introduced by the chair of the D2N2 local enterprise partnership, Peter Richardson, he seems to be one of these people who have the charisma to be universally welcomed by the whole hall.

Governor Carney talked about a measured recovery, put down the city carpetbaggers with grace and eloquence, and all in all sprinkled stardust throughout the room. He impressed me with his recognition that he was in the east Midlands for a particular reason – it was about private sector, high-value jobs and that the east Midlands really demonstrates recovery in the UK through its diverse economy and transition from a reliance on service and public sectors jobs to the private sector.

I have been chief executive of the D2N2 Lep for six months. The fifth largest Lep, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are not areas I knew particularly well beforehand, but are areas where things are clearly invented and made. Having spent most of my career in the south, I have seen more things being made here in the last six months than probably in the last 16 years in the service-sector-led south.

Here in the D2N2 patch, innovation is in our DNA. Home to Rolls Royce, Toyota, Boots, Experian, Bombardier and three high-calibre universities, it also has a huge wealth of smaller businesses serving advanced manufacturing, biosciences, food and drink, construction and the visitor economy. It was of course the catalyst of the last industrial revolution with Arkwright’s Cromford Mills and the UK’s first factory, and our ambition is that this area will help lead the next – the technological revolution.

In recent weeks and months, the significance of Leps has become crystallised. Not long ago they were without resource, their purpose was unclear and capacity a challenge. Private sector buy-in was possibly beginning to wane and some Leps were potentially storming rather than norming.

Post-spending review the route map for Leps has become clear with EU plans required by January 2014 and growth deals by March with sign-off before we break for summer recess.

In our own Lep, I was very clear that a unity of purpose and direction was crucial and we were able to publish our growth plan on July 9th at Pride Park, with a headline to deliver 55,000 jobs (90% in the private sector) over the next 10 years. We’ve also now published our skills plan and with the growth deal process we will be in a stronger position to coordinate and deliver shared local priorities across the whole of our area.

We are not a homogenous area: we have stunning and important rural communities; a core city in Nottingham and a key city in Derby; areas of deprivation and significant economic strengths, opportunity and population along the M1/HS2 corridor and the A1/great east mainline.

We have important employment sites such as NG2 where the Lep has its offices but also the enterprise zone in Nottingham, an enterprise zone at Markham Vale, the global technology cluster at Derby, Bio City, and energy parks. Our three world class universities are actively engaged and leading our analysis of opportunity through innovation and even the football and cricket teams are achieving their potential!

Things might indeed be looking up but governor Carney expressed an expectation of measured recovery. The transition from old manufacturing to advanced manufacturing, growth of the clean tech economy and our propensity to stay local and shop local to grow small SMEs and our desire to put business at the forefront of skills and reducing regulation should indeed mean that the east Midlands will be a real barometer of recovery and D2N2’s ambition – as reported in the Evening Standard recently – to be the UK’s most inspirational postcode, may indeed be realised.

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