Highlights from The Big Debate 2021

Our annual flagship policy event brought together local MPs and business leaders to help influence change and give voice to Norfolk businesses on topics including People & Skills, Rebuilding the Economy, Climate Change & Going Green and Beyond Brexit.
Here are some of the highlights…

Despite being virtual this year, The Big Debate 2021 sponsored by Greater Anglia generated a lively debate between local MPs and local business leaders.

Over 100 attended the online event on Zoom, which was hosted by high-profile journalist and Times Radio presenter Carole Walker.

Debate 1: People & Skills

The first panel debate – People & Skills – saw Rebecca Headden Co-Director at R13 Recruitment, James Howells Director for Turning Factor and Karen Paterson Deputy Group Property & Facilities Director for Aviva UK take questions. The debate began with a focus on how to make working from home productive and protect the wellbeing of employees.

James Howells from Turning Factor said: “As employers we need to measure outcomes of tasks NOT how long employees are spending online each day. You need to make sure your employees are scheduling in ‘white space’ in their day. It’s not great for productivity if we think that people are not working when they are not contactable all of the time.”

Scheduling time for virtual coffee breaks and social activities is a good way to check-in with employees to see if they are doing okay.

Rebecca Headden from R13 Recruitment said: “Virtual coffee breaks and buddy systems can help ensure your staff are doing okay and know where they can get help.”  

Karen Paterson from Aviva explained that with most of their employees currently working from home, wellbeing is at the heart of everything they do: “The main thing is to look after people’s wellbeing. Everyone has different needs so the main thing we have been doing is setting up different virtual staff events for people to get involved with.”

The debate then centred on what opportunities are there for young people to get into work. Are we as businesses doing enough to support the next generation?  

Schemes like KickStart, apprenticeships, online learning and encouraging young people to consider careers in construction and building were discussed.

Karen Paterson from Aviva UK talked about the positivity around apprenticeships with the company offering 24 places in Norwich this year: “In Norfolk we are working with the New Anglia LEP to ensure that young people from all backgrounds have opportunities in the world of work.”

On the subject for how we retain talent in Norfolk, James Howells from Turning Factor said: “It is all about development. Young people want a path, they want to know what they can do next. Employers need to give young people a career path, as they want more than just a job.”

Debate 2: Rebuilding the Economy

Joining the debate panel was Stefan Gurney Executive Director for Norwich BID, David Parfrey Chief Executive for Norwich Research Park, James Wild MP for North West Norfolk and Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South.

The main topics for discussion were what impact has COVID-19 had on businesses and what support mechanisms are in place (or should be in place) to help businesses recover and regrow?

James Wild MP was optimistic that once lockdown controls are lifted the economy will bounce back. He said: “We have a year of recovery ahead of us. Business want to know a timeline of when lockdown will be lifted and once this is in place it is about getting people’s confidence back to go out.”

Clive Lewis MP took this further: “We need a long-term plan for an integrated recovery, which includes the right level of support for our city centres. People in Norwich need to have confidence in our city. That means feeling that the city is safe, having money in their pockets, and making the heart of the city a place where people want to be.”

Stefan Gurney from Norwich BID agreed adding: “We need to take this opportunity to look at business rate reform and city centre redevelopment that focusses on bricks and mortar retail.”

David Parfrey from Norwich Research Park said that it was “not about bouncing back” to where we were pre-pandemic, but “bouncing forward”, building on what we have and not being afraid to celebrate how great Norfolk is: “There is a belief in London that the world stops at Cambridge – we need to dispel that myth by being more outspoken about how Norfolk does great business and how it plays an integral part in the economy.”

Debate 3: Climate Change & Going Green

The third debate saw a panel made up of Jonathan Denby Head of Corporate Affairs for Greater Anglia, Richard Buckingham Climate Change and Carbon Manager for Anglian Water, Dr Catrin Ellis Jones Stakeholder Engagement Manager – Offshore Wind for Vattenfall, and Duncan Baker MP for North Norfolk discuss how businesses can improve their carbon footprint and become more environmentally sustainable?

Greater Anglia, sponsors of The Big Debate 2021 has made great strides in ensuring its future is Green. Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia said: “We’re committed to a more sustainable future. We have recently published our first environment and energy report, which details our plans for greener travel in the region. We have recently introduced new trains that are greener and cleaner for the environment.

“Business should have a real commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. What can you do with recycling and energy saving? Build green issues into your decision making.”

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones from Vattenfall agreed: “We represent the sector that is having a big impact on lowering carbon emissions. It is our business strategy not just our sustainable strategy to lower carbon footprint.”

Anglian Water have also made good progress with reducing their carbon emissions. Richard Buckingham from Anglian Water said: “We have committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and we have a target of using 44% renewables by 2025.”

For businesses to make change, Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia argued that there needs to be incentives to implement certain things: “Having an overarching strategy to climate change will work. We have targets we need to meet and there are incentives to implement certain things – all this helps businesses go green.”

Incentives for making change in building eco-friendly homes should also be in place for retrofitting old houses, as Dr Catrin Ellis Jones from Vattenfall explained: “Retrofitting new housing to be greener is a challenge, but we are going in the right direction with heat and solar systems. Now we need incentives for retrofitting old houses too.”

In response, Duncan Baker MP for North Norfolk said: “We have the green homes grant as an incentive to retrofitting old houses, but we also need to look at what materials we build houses from – bricks, steel and cement are not environmentally friendly options.”

When it comes to what businesses can do right now to become more respectful of the environment, the panel was in agreement that even small steps now can have a big impact later on.

Duncan Baker MP for North Norfolk said: “It’s all about steady, small, incremental steps. So for example, if you are looking at investing in a new vehicle go electric, switch to a greener energy supplier…start small.”

Supply chains were another key area to look at if you want to make your business greener. Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia said: “Wherever we can we get our supplies locally or if we cannot from the UK.”

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones from Vattenfall agreed: “We are working on our supply chains now and where we can work with local companies and organisations in offshore wind.”

Debate 4: Beyond Brexit

For the final discussion in The Big Debate 2021 we were joined by a panel including Kevin Walsh UK Sales Director for LV Shipping, Tracy Renshaw Managing Director for Import Export Support, Richard Pace Managing Director for Norwich Airport and Leszek Wysocki International Trade Advisor for Department of International Trade. The debate aimed to discuss what support do businesses need to drive growth overseas and what impact has Brexit had on businesses already.

Tracey Renshaw from Import Export Support said: “The key knowledge every business needs if they want to trade with the EU is know your supply chain. We need to consider where our goods have been made. This is a good opportunity for Norfolk businesses to become to best in the world at this.”

Kevin Walsh from LV Shipping agreed: “The one thing I would say to businesses is to understand the rules of the game when trading with the EU. Organisations like Norfolk Chambers can help here.”

Leszek Wysocki from Department of International Trade agreed that there is support available for businesses: “One of the issues businesses faced was the late finalisation of the agreement, but we are doing everything we possibly can to help considering the huge numbers that need support.”

Tracey Renshaw from Import Export Support said that there is also help for businesses looking to export to the EU: “There are a lot of local companies thinking ‘how do I export’ and it is not too late to look into this. HMRC are working hard to facilitate enterprise in the UK, businesses just need to ask to get that support and we are here to help.”

About Norfolk businesses looking to export to the EU, Kevin Walsh from LV Shipping added: “There is a demand for products from Norfolk, in particular the renewables industry in Great Yarmouth, which is world-leading. It is these products that we need to shout about to get Norfolk on the map.”

Bringing the debate round to how Brexit has affected businesses, Richard Pace from Norwich Airport stressed the importance they have in connecting Norfolk to the rest of the world: “We play a key part in getting businesses connected to Europe and other parts of the world. What we need now is a roadmap from Government on how we can bring back travel safely, and in the short term the support to secure jobs so that we are here for the longer term to help Norfolk connect to Europe and beyond.”

Norfolk Chambers can help your business export to the EU. Just contact our International Trade Team for advice on 01603 729706 or visit www.norfolkchamber.co.uk/international

Save the Date

The Big Debate 2022 takes place on Friday 4th February 2022. You can pre-register your interest here.

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