‘I want to land a game-changer’ – New Anglia LEP chairman Doug Field on his big hope for 2019
As New Anglia LEP prepares for its annual general meeting today, its chairman Doug Field still feels he has unfinished business, he told business editor Mark Shields.
As he reflects on his first year as chairman of the New Anglia LEP, Doug Field quotes a phrase made famous by Marie Curie.
“‘One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done,’” he says.
“That’s how I see our progress. We’ve had some successes but we always have to keep going to continue that momentum.”
That will be a key concern at today’s AGM held at the International Aviation Academy in Norwich, at the end of a year which has seen some notable successes, along with a couple of economic body blows.
But as the LEP sets its targets for the next year, Mr Field is clear about what remains to be done - in his tenure, at least.
“For 2019, I want to land a game-changer,” he says. “I want to do something that is going to change our local economy. That’s what I want to do in my three years.”
What form that breakthrough will take he’s unsure of – but whether it is persuading a multinational to relocate, or attracting major international funding, “it must deliver a material impact in our ambitions and economic indicators” to meet his definition. “That could be extra jobs or improved productivity, but we have to keep creating that momentum and continue it,” he adds.
Among its highlights of the year, the LEP includes the 1,269 jobs its funding helped to create, the 375 businesses founded, £3m in grants handed out through the Growing Business Fund, £22m invested in infrastructure and nearly £40m in private sector investment unlocked.
Mr Field flags up other important projects too - the national nuclear sector deal which will give smaller companies access to high value contracts and money for training, work starting once more on the Winerack project on Ipswich Waterfront and the relocation of flavourings company Treatt to new enterprise zone premises in Bury St Edmunds.
The bid for the multi-college Eastern Institute of Technology has moved on to the next stage, while the Food Enterprise Park near Norwich – where Colman’s is expected to relocate its downsized operation – will offer the space for new food processing businesses and jobs.
Rumours are also swirling around Lotus, and its parent company Geely’s reported intention to put £1.5bn behind plans to put them in the sportcar fast lane with Ferrari and Porsche.
With the company refusing to comment on the rumours, Mr Field is also reserving judgement.
“It looks like they are going to be putting in some investment, which would be very important. I know they’re working on plans, which I hope will soon become public,” he said. “It certainly looks positive.”
On the downside, Colman’s and Britvic’s decisions to close their Norwich factories by 2019 were setbacks to manufacturing in the region, swiftly followed by the Construction Industry Training Board’s decision to relocate its head office to Peterborough.
Those were trying times, admits Mr Field, as the LEP attempted to mitigate the impact of the job losses in discussion with the companies.
“Some of the multinationals are difficult,” he says. “And there were challenges with both sites, so it was a dark couple of months.”
Rumbling on in the background, of course, have been the Brexit negotiations – a time of “risk and opportunity” for businesses. “It’s incredibly frustrating for businesses that they are not sure what future to plan for,” says Mr Field. “Therefore, that has to be a barrier for certain decisions. If you have no certainty, that’s really hard. Time gets short and that has to be on the mind of every business.”
Work has continued on engaging businesses in the region’s Economic Strategy – the document led by the LEP which sets out the growth ambitions for Norfolk and Suffolk all the way through to the 2030s.
Collaboration has also been key, whether it be with Cambridge through the Norwich-Cambridge Tech Corridor, or the memorandum of understanding signed with Dutch dignitaries just days ago.
Closer to home, it is also trying to build connections with companies in the south-west who could be linked by the regular Norwich-Exeter flights, with reciprocal trade missions already completed to explore shared strengths in agriculture, life sciences and nuclear energy.
But despite the links with the Dutch, East Anglia is not an “EU-centric” region, he says – and the LEP is working to forge links with China, particularly in food, energy and agriculture to expand businesses’ horizons.
But landing a significant inward investment remains a significant goal for Mr Field.
In June, the LEP agreed to invest £50,000 to develop a single place brand for Norfolk and Suffolk, which it currently brands as The East.
The goal, says Mr Field, is to make the region recognised in the UK and abroad for its many strengths. “In many ways, my target is the same as when I took over: that when someone mentions Norwich or Ipswich or our region, they know what we do and what we’re good at.”
New Anglia LEP – the highlights
Among the LEP’s highlights for the year:
• £22m invested in infrastructure, including £10m for the Broadland Northway, funds for the A140, Lowestoft’s Cefas marine hub and the Ipswich Cornhill;
• £250,000 being distributed through the Community Challenge Fund to help charities get people into work;
• Work beginning on the Winerack in Ipswich, 10 years after it stalled;
• The Space to Innovate enterprize zone marking two years, attracting £14m of private capital investment and become home to 65 firms;
• Becoming one of 20 careers hubs sharing £5m funding for better careers education for young people;
• Awarding £554,000 in grants to 70 firms through the Small Grant Scheme;
• Supporting 309 learners and apprentices;
• Creating 1,269 jobs;
• Launching the Economic Strategy, after speaking to more than 1,000 businesses over more than a year.