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Rob Johnston, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, has been awarded an MBE for services to businesses in this year’s Queen’s
Birthday Honours. He has over many years made a significant contribution to Cumbria and Northwest businesses and the economy, utilising his considerable commitment, energy, knowledge and enthusiasm in a wide range of organisations and groups
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership
Rob led on and played a pivotal role in the successful establishment of Cumbria’s Local Enterprise
Partnership, with many of the processes and documents he established being identified as national best
practice. He succeeded in drawing and holding together a private/public sector partnership, ensuring that
all key business representative organisations, local authorities and other key public sector organisations
signed up to the bid – and engaging some of the county’s key business people in providing supporting
Rob was responsible for the successful LEP bid, which made the case effectively for a LEP for the
county, despite the area being only half the size stated as the minimum which would be considered and
including only one upper tier authority.
He drove recruitment of the private sector LEP Board members, successfully establishing an effective
Board. Rob continues to actively support the LEP and is currently production of the LEP action plan.
He has played a key role in bringing very significant funding into the county through the LEP, including
Cumbria Infrastructure Fund, the Rural Growth Network and successful Regional Growth Fund bids for
Pirelli; Gilbert, Gilkes & Gordon & Britain’s Energy Coast.
2009 Cumbrian flooding crisis
Within 24 hours of parts of Cumbria being significantly hit by the floods on 19th November 2009, Rob had
successfully negotiated funding in excess of £1m to facilitate business survival and recovery, resulting in
minimal loss of businesses.
He mobilised staff to be on the ground in all relevant local areas as soon as these areas were safe to
enter, providing practical advice and support to affected businesses – including, crucially, moral support.
Rob also put in place immediate web-based support and established a grant scheme to support affected
businesses through support for specialist advice, marketing, interest relief and training.
He immediately mobilised the private sector to support other businesses – most notably resulting in
the early re-establishment of Cockermouth’s major employer over the first weekend of the floods and
negotiated significant funding that enabled retention of this employer in the locality.
Made in Cumbria
On the basis of his successful track record Rob was asked by Cumbria County Council to take over
Made in Cumbria, a public sector economic regeneration initiative, reliant on public sector funding
and which would no longer by sustained. He turned Made in Cumbria into a sustainable commercial
organisation, refreshing and relaunching the brand into one able to compete with top level commercial
brands. He has revitalised and secured the future of Made in Cumbria, in doing giving a growing band of
business members an effective route to market, locally, nationally and internationally, (through events,
retail outlets and online) along with business support and networking opportunities.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce
Initially acting on an expenses only basis, as Chief Executive, Rob has delivered the strategic
development and restructuring of the Chamber, from an organisation on the brink of bankruptcy
into a successsful sustainable business. The Chamber is now benchmarked by British Chambers of
Commerce as one of the best performing Chambers in the UK.
He drove the Chamber to become a major force in business support, engagement and representation
across Cumbria. With membership of around 1,500 businesses, representing all sectors, and interacting
regularly with in excess of 12,000 business contacts, the Chamber has become the premier route to
market for those seeking to engage with business in Cumbria.
Under Rob’s leadership, the Chamber has now, over a number of years, played a key role in the
county’s business economy. A key element of the value of the Chamber is the number of projects and
initiatives it is able to deliver to help businesses, support individuals into business and engage young
people in business and enterprise.
Chartered Institute of Marketing
Rob is a Fellow of Chartered Institute of Marketing and first President of the CIM Cumbria Branch.
Learning & Skills Council
Rob was actively engaged in the work of the Learning & Skills Council over a number of years as
Vice Chair of LSC Cumbria Board, a member of the Northwest Regional LSC Board and a member of
Regional LSC Capital Sub-Group, responsible for approximately £1.4bn of FE funding.
Employment & Skills Board
Rob drove the successful establishment of the Cumbria Employment & Skills Board.
North West Development Agency
Rob was an NWDA Board member. His specialist areas of responsibility were regional IT and technology
strategy, and HE & FE strategy for Cumbria. He also led on regional nuclear issues. Rob was vice-chair
of the Rural Regeneration Sub-Group, vice-chair of the Infrastructure Sub-Group, vice-chair of Property
Strategy Task & Finish Group and a member of the Skills Sub-Group. He acted as adviser on the North
West ICT Strategy strategic review and played a strategic role in the development of a number of
initiatives including Cumbria Vision and the University of Cumbria. He worked closely with NWDA’s
Cumbria Economic Development partners.
North West Regional Assembly
Rob is a past member of the Knowledge Economy Key Priority Group (expert group).
National Nuclear Academy Project
Rob authored the original concept paper which initiated the National Nuclear Academy Project. He was
vice-chair of the Nuclear Skills Project Management group, a member of the Nuclear Skills Advisory
Group and lead consultant of the project team for the National Nuclear Academy.
Rob successfully developed an e-learning company specialising in training for the hospitality and
The Visual Link
As Managing Director, Rob developed The Visual Link into a world class, creative technology SME,
specialising in ICT, media and communications serving a range of blue-chip customers.
Cumbria Digital Development Network
As Chair of the Cumbria Digital Development Network, Rob was responsible for setting up the Network,
appointing Chairs of Theme Groups and action plans to stimulate the development of digital technology
across Cumbria. This also encompassed Project Access, a £20m scheme to stimulate development of
ICT take up in rural areas for skills, business and social inclusion.
Chambers of Commerce North West
Rob is a Director of Chambers of Commerce North West and a member of the Northwest Chambers’
Policy Group, North West Chambers is a representative company working on behalf of all the northwest
Chambers as a regional body.
British Chambers of Commerce
Rob is currently a member of the British Chambers of Commerce National Inward Investment Steering
Other past/current business representative on a range of other strategic bodies in Cumbria
Rob is a past/current business representative on a range of other strategic bodies in Cumbria and the
North West including:
- Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership
- Cumbria Strategic Partnership
Cumbria Economic Development Officers’ Group
Cumbria 14-19 Strategic Partnership
Kendal Futures Board
West Cumbria Strategic Partnership
North West Forum