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THE BIG INTERVIEW Some people have endured significant mental health


struggles, he notes, due to the claustrophobia associated with less luxurious living conditions or the lack of certainty that follows furlough or redundancy. But there’s also those less spoken about during the crisis


– the people who have kept working, remained safe and aren’t in any immediate crisis.


‘The sun shone so we could sit outside with a cup of coffee for the first time while working’


“Yet at the same time, there’s been no huge excitement


at all – they’ve just been going along gradually,” he says. David compares the lockdown situation to a grief


process that everyone has gone through. Initially, it was excitement because it was all new,” he


adds. “The sun shone so we could sit outside with a cup of coffee for the first time while working and people were saying ‘hey, this actually works’. “Then there was the realisation that lockdown doesn’t


change things overnight, and of course the weather changed. That put us in the grudging acceptance period. “The next phase is potentially exciting, as we hope the


world wakes up again and we can return to that world – but not in the way it was operating before. “Not necessarily having to do the commute every morning, or go to the office every day, so we can have the life we had before – but better.”


Like Birmingham and Manchester, East Midlands must find its voice to overturn the funding deficit


Finding a “voice” should be the priority for the East Midlands in the post-Covid world, believes David Williams. The interim chairman of the D2N2


Local Enterprise Partnership, who stepped into the role in June from his previous deputy role, believes the region has never truly been able to present a united front when attempting to secure investment from both Government and the private sector. But with Prime Minister Boris Johnson


committed to “levelling up” the economy outside London and the South East, this provides the East Midlands with a great opportunity to reverse its position as having the lowest levels of capital investment in the country. David says: “In recent times, it gets


trapped between the noise of the Midlands Engine – which is Birmingham- centric – and the Northern Powerhouse. “We’re the bit in the middle, but a


very substantial bit in the middle with a large economy, some very successful businesses and a huge population. “So D2N2 is committed to building up


a view – particularly in the minds of politicians – of what the East Midlands is and what is wants. This means that when we come to funding rounds, we can say to MPs ‘here’s a list of projects and these are what we need lobbying for’. “And there’s been some really good


lobbying from the public and private sectors to say what this patch wants and what its ambitions are.” This was evident when D2N2 was able


to demonstrate some “shovel-ready” schemes that would help the local economy and create jobs when the Government announced a plan to “build, build, build” in the so-called “New Deal” nationwide recovery programme. It resulted in the LEP receiving a


£44.4m share of the £900m Getting Building Fund – the sixth largest allocation in the country. The Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) was also awarded £20m. David, who was also a board member


of Derby County from 2017 to 2019, draws comparisons with the famous Winston Churchill quote to “never waste a good crisis” and believes the East Midlands has proven itself to be “sufficiently credible” to receive this money. He adds: “We’ve had companies like


Rolls-Royce enduring issues not of their making, which is causing them to make a substantial number of redundancies. “We have all these skilled people


coming out of employment to find roles for, as well as a piece of the UK’s crown jewels in advanced manufacturing here, so we have to support this sector and put it back stronger in the future. “We’re trying to make a positive out of


what’s a really difficult situation for a lot of people.


38 business network August/September 2020


David believes East Midlands leaders should follow the example set by the likes of Birmingham Mayor Andy Street


“The urgent thing to do is signpost


those people to future careers and replace the jobs that will be lost – but not to replace them with more low-wage, low-skilled jobs, but equipping them with the skills for higher-wage, higher- skilled jobs.” One sector with particular potential


for the East Midlands is the green economy. With the travails of 2020 coming hot on the heels of the Extinction Rebellion movement and a renewed purpose for sustainability, much emphasis has been placed on how the post-Covid recovery should be green. David says: “The opportunities in this


area to genuinely build an economy on green energy really are strong.” An issue that could be set to return is


devolution. Plans to unite Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire – as well as potentially Lincolnshire – faltered due to disagreements over adopting the elected mayor model established in Manchester and Birmingham. The idea was brought back to the


table in 2018 after research showed the East Midlands received the lowest Government spending per head on economic development and transport – with rail expenditure at £91 per person, compared to £746 per person in London – but there has been little progress since the four counties agreed to explore a “strategic alliance”. David believes it is crucial to the


region’s future prosperity, adding: “It’s clear that funding follows a devolution deal. You can relate that to the failure to find a voice because areas like the Northern Powerhouse, Birmingham, Sheffield and obviously London have a voice to speak for them. “In the East Midlands, we don’t have


that personality or character yet. I’m not certain we will find one, or be willing to find one, so making the most of what we have is down to the LEPs. “If everything happens that we’re


hoping for, we can see a picture for our patch that’s quite encouraging.”


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