How to fix Britain: Cumbrian businesses send a message to government

A blueprint setting out how the Government can boost Cumbria’s economy and help businesses thrive has been submitted to Business Secretary Greg Clark.

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has responded to a national consultation on the Government’s proposed Industrial Strategy.

The 34-page submission makes dozens of recommendations including subsidised university tuition fees for engineering students, reform of business rates, a ‘buy local’ policy in government procurement, sector deals for nuclear and tourism, and tax breaks to encourage investment to cut energy costs.

It follows a major consultation exercise where the Chamber asked businesses what the Industrial Strategy should contain.

Chamber Chief Executive Rob Johnston said: “Having an Industrial Strategy marks a sea change in policy. Theresa May and her Business Secretary have indicated they will be more interventionist than any government since the 1970s.

“The Industrial Strategy Green Paper covers investment, skills, infrastructure, business support, procurement, exports, energy and other areas of vital interest.

“This is a hugely important document and we were very keen to hear what businesses in Cumbria think.”

The Chamber produced a summary of the Green Paper and sent it to 16,000 businesses on its database, asking for comments.

It also held three consultation meetings around the county, attended by businesses of all sizes and from different sectors.

The responses reflected optimism that Cumbria is on the cusp of £25bn inward investment in advanced manufacturing and nuclear, and potential to grow the tourism and food sectors.

But businesses identified barriers holding them back – inadequate road and rail links, patchy broadband and mobile phone coverage, difficulties accessing finance, a shortage of skilled workers and too many school leavers lacking basic skills.

Rob added: “We had some interesting and forthright responses. When you get business people around a table there is always a free and frank exchange of views.

“They pulled no punches when it came to criticisms of the banks, our education system, and failings in Cumbria’s transport and broadband. But don’t get the idea that this document is a list of complaints. At heart it is constructive.

“There are solutions to problems, including ideas on how we can help businesses innovate and bring products to market, seize opportunities presented by Brexit, and how we can make the LEP and the Northern Powerhouse work better for business.

“There is much of merit here, and we hope the Government takes it on board. It will be interesting to see how many of our ideas appear in the White Paper when it is published.”

The consultation closes on Easter Monday.

View the Chamber’s response in full here