Column by Dan Fell, chief executive officer of Doncaster Chamber
Last month the Chamber hosted its annual business conference. The event was extremely positive and attracted over 200 businesses and local stakeholders. Speakers and panellists included Ed Miliband MP, Dame Rosie Winteron MP, Jo Miller from DMBC, Mark Robson from UKTI, Steve Gill from Doncaster Sheffield Airport and many others from organisations such as Centre for Cities, Thinking Place and CAST.
For businesses in attendance, it was an opportunity to flag their concerns, issues and aspirations to politicians and public sector decision makers. For the public sector representatives it was a chance to listen and share their plans on driving economic growth. The mood was of confidence created by headlining transformational projects such as the High Speed Rail College, Great Yorkshire Way and Tour de Yorkshire. All of these projects feel relevant to SMEs and have a direct benefit to the real economy. Nonetheless, and quite appropriately, there was a lot of challenge in the room.
The morning centred around three debates on hot business topics.
Firstly, the issue of the North v South divide and a vociferous debate about whether the Northern Powerhouse is a bona fide opportunity or another gimmick from the treasury. Delegates were confident Doncaster can add a lot of value to UK plc. and saw the devolution deal - carved out by the local enterprise partnership – as a chance to create the skills, business support and transport systems needed for the business community. It was a real pleasure to see the Chamber’s brilliant apprentice, Asa Buckley, on stage as the guest facilitator of the second debate on skills and aspirations. The conclusion was that we need to create an end-to-end skills system that works for employers and Doncaster residents alike. Delegates are looking to Doncaster Skill’s and Education Commission to help shape and steer this. The final debate turned to place marketing and the way Doncaster is perceived locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We have a lot to be proud of and we have an unprecedented era of economic opportunity. Unfortunately we tend to whisper rather than shout about our assets and it was agreed that all of us - businesses, politicians, agencies and the media - need to do more to bang the drum for our town. We need to do this externally as much as internally.
This year’s conference showed that businesses are feeling very confident about the future of our town and we are at our best when we drive effective partnerships between the public and private sector to deliver the goods for Doncaster.