The desire to pursue an industrial strategy that shifts the focus of our economy away from London should be commended.
The importance of an industrial strategy was discussed at a recent workshop I attended hosted by the University of Derby and chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell. Other attendees included Pauline Latham, MP for mid-Derbyshire; Rolls-Royce Group President, Colin Smith and Bob Betts, Chief Executive of Smith of Derby.
For too long, the South-East has dominated and acted as a drain on talent from communities in the Midlands and the North. It is something that my Labour colleagues have been saying for some time.
Many international businesses as well as the apparatus of the state are found in the capital, while the vast majority of British institutions and cultural organisations are also based in London. This has sucked important investment and funding away from the communities that need it most.
Moreover, the contrasting laissez-faire approach of the previous Government to our economy has clearly had a damaging impact on traditionally working class communities. In my view, it is one of the reasons why many people feel let-down and disenfranchised.
Fortunately, we have faired better locally than in other areas, owing to Derby’s reputation as a centre for hi-tech engineering. In fact, the aerospace industry has been recognised as a model sector for how the new strategy will operate.
And despite my repeated criticism of the Government for the way it has staved councils of funding, the change of focus to the new industrial strategy is welcome. Greater public investment in key industries and a renewed focus on boosting skills and research can only be good news for Derby.
But we live in a globalised world where businesses like Rolls Royce, Bombardier or Toyota are looking for talented people from across the world. If they are to succeed in attracting the best and the brightest to our city, we need to ensure Derby remains a great place to live.
This means investing in public services. Councils in particular need to have their funding restored, so that discretionary services like museums, leisure centres and cultural events can continue to be provided.
These are the things that give our city its character and we will do everything we can to protect them. In recognition, supporting leisure and culture to become sustainable will form a key part of the budget the Council is due to set in March.
However, an effective industrial strategy is only one pillar of ensuring future prosperity in areas outside the South-East. Funding for local government must be addressed if our economy and our communities are to thrive.