‘It’s not all about the Northern Powerhouse - The Government needs to keep the Midlands Engine stoked as well’

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2016 is the year that the Government must deliver for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, a conference into the future of business in the East Midlands has declared.

Thousands of manufacturing and logistics jobs could be created due to improved roads and rail infrastructure, with plans for the region to play a pivotal role in the development of HS2 over the next two decades.

But manufacturing in the county is struggling to find appropriately qualified and skilled applicants, and more needs to be done to retrain people to fill gaps in the labour market, the conference organised by East Midlands Chamber heard today (February 11)

The Chamber - which represents businesses across Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire - also said that growth in the manufacturing sector has slowed, which it says should “serve as a wake-up call” to Government policy makers.

In a report also published today, the Chamber has analysed the findings of its quarterly economic surveys of the past two years to determine the current health of the region’s manufacturing and engineering sectors.

It found that during 2014, there was a strengthening in growth in the sector, which slowed down in 2015.

And the organisation warned that if the trend continues through 2016, it would prompt serious concerns that Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire’s production sectors were again contracting, following the economic meltdown in 2008.

Chamber CEO Scott Knowles told the conference: “Business policy needs to be reviewed and barriers to future growth removed. There are things that can be done and 2016 must be the year that the Government starts to deliver.”

The conference also heard that it is expected that the Government will rubber-stamp Toton, near Nottingham, as the preferred location for the HS2 hub later this year.

Separate freight rail infrastructure is also being planned, along with the creation of a 6m square-metre business hub near East Midlands Airport, which could create 7,000 new jobs.

Additionally, Marks and Spencer and Aldi are both increasing their presence in the south of Derbyshire - with the latter planning to build a 1.2m square-metre regional distribution hub close to Long Eaton.

Plans are also being mooted to extend Nottingham’s tram network out beyond the HS2 hub down to the new freight park - which would link in to other freight hubs being built around the UK, taking the pressure off the region’s roads.

Carol Stanfield, from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said that whilst the region had a buoyant labour market, many employers were reporting that they were experiencing difficulty finding employees with the right skills.

She added that manufacturing was a particular problem area, with a rising skills shortage - particularly amongst professionals and skilled trade positions, but also semi-skilled occupations such as machine operators.

“Ninety per cent of the workforce of 2025 are working at the moment,” she said. “We can’t rely on the schools and colleges to train our workforce of tomorrow - we must do it ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Alistair Cunningham, from the Bank of England, said that the region’s economy had shown growth for the past three years, but there had been a slowdown, with a fall-off in export activity to China, as well as Russia and Brazil.

He added that there had been a reduction in the manufacturing sectors, but an increase in construction and business services in recent years, with employment levels back to those of 2008, when the UK first tumbled into recession.

Chris Hobson, the Chamber’s director of policy, said: “The findings of this report suggest that much more needs to be done in terms of delivering sustainable and balanced growth.

“In particular, there needs to be greater support for manufacturers that are looking to use a strong domestic base to grow overseas markets in difficult conditions, and for the sector as a whole to ensure the right skills and attributes in potential staff members are available as it continues to invest to grow.

“The East Midlands provides the UK with its spine of manufacturing and engineering. Developing and delivering policy that helps support conditions for these sectors to flourish in this region will ensure the country as a whole can also succeed.”