Look at Norfolk. See success.

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

‘Look at Norfolk. See Success’ is the message we have conveyed in 2014. It’s time to celebrate, and build on, our increased visibility.

The end of a year is inevitably a time for reflection on both what’s happened in the previous twelve months, and what’s planned or hoped for in the next.  It’s seldom been more appropriate for Norfolk to consider those issues than right now, as we look towards 2015.

This year saw the county become more visible on the political agenda. The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce was influential in securing audiences with key politicians, at national level, and giving the region the opportunity to have its business voice heard.  Chukka Umunna, George Osborne, Vince Cable and David Cameron all came here at the Chamber’s direct invitation, and their primary reason for doing so was to hear what our members have to say, and see what we have to offer. Note the letter below of thanks from David Cameron. Just as importantly it was an opportunity to inform them what we need to realise the county’s demonstrable potential.

It’s potential that will be made deliverable with better infrastructure. Five years ago the A47 and A11 struggled to get on to the government’s agenda. Now they know that the A11 is vital for the growth of the local economy, and improvements to it could deliver over £600 million in economic benefits. What’s more, the work on the A11 is complete and the cones will disappear tomorrow.

Norfolk Chamber members from start-ups to large scale organisations, together with the rest of the business community, the LEPs and our MPs have been very successful in highlighting the business case for improvements to the A47. The message was that improvements along this route will open up opportunities for Norfolk businesses to deliver more economic growth, housing and jobs for our county.  The result of our being seen and heard is that the Prime Minister has pledged that the Government will commit £300million for work along the A47 route but we do need to continue to lobby for the dualling of the Acle Straight and the all-important Dereham, Swaffham, King’s Lynn corridor. We’ve shown that we’re on the road to success and we need to build on this success.

The rail links are as vital as the roads, and again the Norfolk Chamber business community has been successful in bringing its needs into focus. Improvements put forward by the Great Eastern Main Line Campaign will boost our ambition to be a mobile and accessible economy. Our voices were heard and, follliwng the commitment to a rail Taskforce by the chancellor at a Chamber event last November, in this year’s  Autumn Statement we have a commitment from Government to ensure that ‘Norwich in 90’ becomes a reality. The signals are set at go.

The poor strength of of our mobile and broadband signals is firmly on the agenda going forward. The Chamber actively engaging members in surveys, and gathering opinion to inform our dialogue with Government has allowed us to, collectively, make it known that it’s essential for every business in our region to be digitally enabled beyond the minimum on offer. Superfast broadband should actually mean superfast and not what is mainly on offer..

Feedback clearly shows that accessing skilled staff is considered a key concern, and restricts growth. With greater connectivity, and innovative technology expanding the economy comes the need for additional employment and the challenge for businesses to find people of all ages with the right skills.  There has been a great step forward with the development of apprenticeships but the business links with schools still has a long way to go to ensure that our young people understand the world of work and which careers are open to them. Westminster must understand of our needs and help us to encourage school to work closer with business.  

Central to all of this increased visibility for Norfolk has been the business voice. Working with our members, our MPs, the educational establishment, businesses and our partners we have made 2014 a vital and firm rung in the ladder to our success as a region. We have proved that the business voice counts.  Government has heard us. They’ve seen that looking at Norfolk means seeing success. And we can and must celebrate that. Please ensure that you do book onto our next MPs event to ensure we get a really loud Norfolk business voice on the 6 February, 2015.

To climb to the next rung is the work for 2015. We’ve shown what we can offer. We’ve successfully made our case for the tools we need to deliver it. We must now, with the same collective and cohesive determination, ensure that the promises are kept, and that we get on with the job and build on what has been put on the table.

Now that we have a focus, and are clearly in focus, we can be sure that when commerce and government look at Norfolk, they see success!

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