Later this week, a delegation of business and civic leaders from Derby will be returning to Hefei to promote economic links between our two cities.
As part of the visit, I will be signing a memorandum of understanding with my Chinese counterparts that will promote economic cooperation, trade and investment. Thanks to the support of the Foreign Office and the British Consulate, the historic agreement will cement our relationship with Hefei after Chinese delegates first visited Derby in October 2015.
Hefei is the capital of Anhui Province and is situated in the bustling Yangtze River Delta, 400 kilometres east of Shanghai, with a population of around 7.5 million people. But despite the obvious difference in size, there are many similarities between our two cities.
Much like Derby, the Anhui Province is a centre for the rail, automotive and aerospace industry, as well as other types of manufacturing. What is more, Hefei is home to two very well regarded universities and is also at the heart of China’s high speed rail network.
I believe these similarities present opportunities for Derby and Hefei. Our businesses have a reputation for ingenuity, innovation and excellence, so we have much to offer in terms of sharing knowledge and expertise.
In an increasingly globalised world, it’s important to look beyond the boundaries of our cities, regions and countries to find opportunities for creating jobs, generating investment and stimulating growth. When I first visited China in March 2016, it was clear that our colleagues in Hefei shared this vision for co-operation and joint economic prosperity.
During the recent referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, those who campaigned to leave were vocal about the significance of our trading relationship with the rest of the world. Given the outcome of the vote and the possibility that Britain will leave the European Single Market, it’s important that we develop stronger ties with growing economies like China.
The increasing significance of China to our economic fortunes is undeniable. Britain currently exports £22 billion of goods and services to China every year, representing around 6 per cent of our national total. We want businesses in Derby to benefit from this continually growing market.
The likes of Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier are global companies who have long seen the benefit of doing business in China. However, we want to support those smaller businesses that may be looking to establish a foothold in the world’s second largest economy. Through the memorandum and the governmental ties we have established, we can help businesses in Derby negotiate some of the complex cultural and political hurdles that still exist.
But it isn’t just businesses that will profit from this relationship; Derby represents an attractive proposition for Chinese investors and universities and I hope residents here will soon start to see the benefits too.
At a time when Government cuts have limited the ability of local authorities to deliver large capital projects, it’s more important than ever to look further afield for funding and partners. We have shared our ambitious plans for Derby city centre with colleagues in Hefei and we have already had positive discussions with investors and universities about how we may be able to work together.
While we shouldn’t consider our relationship with Hefei a panacea for the many challenges we face as an authority, I believe it can deliver positive, tangible benefits for Derby residents. Our new links with China can sustain our businesses, create jobs for local people and help deliver our City Centre Masterplan.