Chloe Smith MP: Round-table discussion at the Chamber of Commerce

Rain Crowson, Naked Element

On Wednesday 9th August I attended a roundtable discussion at the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce with Norwich North MP, Chloe Smith, along with several other Chamber members from the agriculture, retail and media sectors. The most recent general election was the first time I could legally vote.. and I did! With this in mind you can imagine as a young person ascending into the world of work I don’t know a great deal about the activities of the government, especially not my local government.

Brexit

“Brexit”, a very loud continuous noise, and of course at a roundtable discussion with an MP the Brexit conversation is going to arise. 

Until this discussion I’d always associated Brexit as a negative thing. I’ve heard numerous businesses speak fiercely how the impact of Brexit will damage their business and decrease their profits. But I was reassured that most of the participants at this meeting see Brexit as much more of an opportunity than a threat. We cannot now go back in the EU on the previous terms due to already triggering article 50 and that we must accept it’s not going to be the same so we must ride it out and see it positivity. 

Infrastructure

Communications Infrastructure: Broadband

Those of us in Norfolk are all aware of our rural broadband struggles, in fact last August Norwich was ranked seventh in a table of cities with the slowest broadband speeds.

According to a recent Norfolk Chamber questionnaire, 20% of people stated their network is completely unreliable and a whopping 54% are not having the internet and coverage that they need to complete business as they’d like too and as they need too. 11% of Norfolk still only have access to 2G! 

So who’s to blame? Is it BT? A lot of participants around the table mentioned that BT tend to choose where they put their investment, going for easy wins and projects that win them more returns. E.g prioritising residential broadband rather than business. Although the majority of individuals believe BT is a large part of the problem, there are other problems contributing to our slow network speeds, money is a big one. 

It is actually possible to invest in your own internet, but you could be looking up to a large spend of £30,000 to put your own reliable internet in place. There are options to take up what’s already about such as this, however local broadband should be improved and businesses shouldn’t be forced to spend such large sums to be able to carry out day to day work. 

Not many businesses have instructions on these sorts of options and a marketing campaign was a good suggestion in the meeting to spread the word to businesses that may need it desperately.. that’s if they have the budget. Chloe told us we should take caution in believing that this can be quickly and easily sorted and that it’s not a quick fix.

Skills deficit

East Anglia student qualification levels are below the UK average and students are not fully prepared for work when they leave education, some of this comes down to national curriculum not being enterprise focused enough.

There was discussions of schools not having the correct budget, forcing them to pull out of being a member of the chamber, which will eventually affect their children and their skills. However Chloe reassured us this is not the case, budget is still there. 

Although Chloe assured us budget is still there, we are seeing terms of engagement shutting down. Schools haven’t got time or capacity, and we don’t blame the teachers. We understand there’s a lot on them already, so in order to make students life and work ready, what’s the solution? We’re still not sure.

“Norwich in 90”

On an encouraging last note, network rail has said the “Norwich in 90” line is perfectly achievable by 2024. The government is currently refining an action list to make this possible.

Click here to read the blog on our site. 

Words by Rain

PA 

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