MPs debate key issues at Norfolk Chamber’s annual policy event

The MPs Event 2018 drew over 150 local businesses to debate the key issues affecting businesses with local politicians. 

Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, Dr Adam Marshall hosted the event and chaired the afternoon’s debate with Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, George Freeman MP for Mid Norfolk, Sir Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk and Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North.

Norfolk Chamber’s Chief Executive, Chris Sargisson began the afternoon conference by introducing the themes for the morning; celebrating business success in Norfolk and outlining the challenges and barriers to success in the region. Chris highlighted the importance of promoting Norfolk as a leading destination and explained to the audience that “We all know that Norfolk is a great place to live and work and we want to promote that message regionally, nationally and beyond.”

To make the event more interactive and encourage more engagement with the audience this event saw the introduction of the online software, Slido, which enabled the audience to participate in polls, submit their questions to the MPs panel and feedback what the greatest challenges their businesses are facing.

When asked which issue was of greatest interest to Norfolk businesses ‘Visibility and perception of Norfolk’ was highlighted as most significant. This was closely followed by both ‘Infrastructure’ and ‘skills gap’ which the MPs identified as perennial issues facing the region.

George Freeman said that “I think we should celebrate what all of us here in Norfolk have achieved. I wouldn’t have dreamt within 7 years we’d have the A11 dualled, 300 million (pounds funding) for the A47, an apprenticeship programme introduced and 95% broadband coverage.  We’ve made progress during a period of austerity.” 

George added that he’d observed a shift in the main challenge identified by Norfolk businesses 7 or 8 years ago, from Infrastructure to Skills. Addressing the audience, George stated, “The fact that you’re now saying skills tells me we’ve made great progress and this is the issue now, the thing that’s holding us back.” 

Adam Marshall identified recruiting skilled staff as a national issue, stating “I think there is a huge aspiration amongst Chamber businesses around the country and we do some survey work with them to ask about their recruitment and the overwhelming majority, actually 97% always try to recruit locally and recruit from their communities before they would ever turn to recruiting someone perhaps from overseas. The effort is being made. The mismatch perhaps is that the supply may be 5 - 10 years away.”

Chloe Smith MP agreed the skills gap is a significant issue but that it has been a longstanding one. She quipped that one of the oldest documents stored in the parliament archives is written by Norfolk businesses in the Middle Ages who were struggling to find apprentices. Although Chloe agreed that changes are necessary to address the challenges facing Norfolk Businesses, she warned against continuous changes and disruption that don’t allow the government’s efforts and schemes to fully flourish. 

Chloe stated, “Things have already begun to shift, good things are happening, I would like to see those continue to be allowed to blossom rather than going to Westminster and change again. The only thing I would change in Westminster and I will go and do is more on transport and infrastructure that is the really most practical thing that I think we can all get our teeth into and continue to finish the job.”

Richard Bacon welcomed the opportunity to engage with businesses at the conference, saying “One of the reasons I love attending this event is because one gets exposure to more businesses in one afternoon than in half a year in your constituency and it’s great to hear from business across Norfolk.”

Sir Henry Bellingham called for a thorough debrief of the issues raised during the debate and promoted collaborative working with the Chamber, local businesses, the LEP and local authorities to achieve results. Sir Henry stated, “We want action now and we want real leadership and I think the MPs are receptive to that and we want to work with you (businesses).”

There were a large number of questions submitted before and after the event, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to debate. All unanswered questions will now be submitted to the MPs and we aim to share the responses with Norfolk Chamber members when available.

Take a look at the highlights on Twitter here.

Tag yourself and your colleagues in the event photo album here.

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