Transport and devolution were two key talking points for the speakers at last night’s Leeds Chamber annual dinner.
Transport Secretary and leading Leave campaigner last summer, Chris Grayling, pledged to deliver on the government’s schemes that will support Northern devolution and, therefore, independence from the capital. He also acknowledged the lobbying work underway to secure Bradford a place on the trans-Pennine high-speed rail line proposal.
President Gerald Jennings promised to hold the minister and Theresa May’s government to account, saying that businesses are now increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress on devolution. Skills shortages and, inevitably, Brexit, were also covered in the President’s speech. Gerald thanked members for their support during the campaign to align the proposed HS2 station with the existing one, leading to a national award.
Highlight’s of Gerald’s speech are below.
Certainly no one can say 2016 lacked political drama, Shakespeare could not have written a more riveting plot. Although like many in the room I would have preferred the year to be a little more boring. I can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Brexit. Whilst the Chamber remained impartial both during and after the EU referendum, I think the result took almost everyone by surprise, especially those campaigning to leave. However people voted I strongly believe we must all now come together and ensure Brexit is a success. Working with members the Chamber’s newly formed Brexit Advisory Group will ensure any business concerns about the future economy are fed in to Government departments.
Parochialism and party politics must be set aside for the greater good. In thinking about devolution we should ask why we want it. Devolution has to deliver the tools to enable you as businesses to succeed. It is not about political self-interest, what colour shirt a mayor is likely to wear or what artificial structures need to be put in place to ensure power is not lost by those who currently have it.
Clearly as a brand it has been a success and something, post-Brexit we should all get behind and use to further develop international trade relations. The recently launched Industrial Strategy gives us further possibilities although it does read a little bit like motherhood and apple pie and clearly there’s not yet enough money behind it.
A consistent message we receive from business is that we need more and better skills. However in doing this we need to inspire the next generation and show them all the different routes they have to a successful future. Further work should be done to demonstrate young people can have that future in this city and this region.
We hear regularly from members about their need to draw in talent from as wide a catchment area as possible, or move their goods and services to markets conveniently which is why transport remains a key priority for our lobbying activities. Access to talent and to markets is key to our future success.