We have to excite region’s businesses to succeed and grow, says LEP chairman
PUBLISHED: 15:29 25 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:38 25 October 2017
Copyright: Archant 2017
As he takes the reins at New Anglia LEP, chairman Doug Field says building better links with businesses must be the top priority. Mark Shields reports.
As the father of three young children, Doug Field is no stranger to an early morning.
But he admits his 5am alarm call is proving a useful habit as he settles into his new role, juggling the chairmanship of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership with his day job at the helm of the East of England Co-op.
The 45-year-old takes over from predecessor Mark Pendlington at key time for the LEP, as it embarks on a new Economic Strategy setting out how Norfolk and Suffolk will develop over the next generation.
The organisation must also find ways to raise the region’s profile on a national and international stage, and find the ways to secure the funding it needs following last year’s failed bid for devolution – all, of course, set against the backdrop of the UK’s faltering Brexit negotiations.
Despite this, Mr Field says the aim for his three-year tenure is simple – to make a positive difference – and he will begin by going back to basics.
“We’ve been really good at talking about the money we want from government, but I don’t think we’ve been doing as much as we should have in explaining to businesses what’s in it for them,” he said.
“Businesses see we’ve won £290m of Growth Deal funding but they want to know what it means for them.
“So in my few weeks in the job I’ve been meeting businesses and explaining, for example, the A11 being dualled means you have 30 minutes more commuter distance, so your talent pool is bigger, because the road is better.
“If you fast-forward five years, I’d like to be in a situation where when you go to a conference in London and say you’re from Norwich or Ipswich, the head of a global firm says ‘I know where that is – one of my competitors from Africa has just built a new factory there – there’s talent in that region’.
“You can roll that forward to your personal circumstances. Your 22-year-old daughter doesn’t have to go to London to study quantum computing – she can do it here and, what’s more, she can afford to live here.”
“We’ve got to bring it down to that level, as well as saying all the big stuff we do.”
The hope is that businesses, once engaged and motivated, can then turn into ambassadors for the region, promoting it more widely and encouraging both organic growth and inward investment.
“If we are going to generate economic growth, it will be the businesses which do it,” said Mr Field.
“We have 60,000 small and medium-sized businesses, and they are doing the day job. How do we get them to look up and say ‘I need to get involved because it’s going to help my business’?
“We need to be doing the global stuff, building links with China and attracting inward investment. But just as much, we need to be exporting and growing our existing businesses because that will attract investment too.”
The failure of the devolution bid, which would have given Norfolk and Suffolk greater powers over transport and housing, as well as an elected mayor, meant missing out on a £1bn funding package over 30 years.
Mr Field insisted the region would continue to lobby hard for funding, but had to choose its targets.
“We have to make the interventions where we can have the biggest impact,” he said.
“We are a £36bn economy. [Government] probably think nothing’s broken – and a lot of money goes to where things are broken.
“That’s not necessarily the right approach because we are growing faster than the Northern Powerhouse and we can continue to grow.”
His three years as a LEP board member have shown him the power of “getting everything aligned” and building the sector strengths – the key, as he sees it, to attracting bigger names to the region.
“We have to invest in skills, infrastructure and connectivity,” he said. “We don’t have an unlimited pot of money. But we do have things like the aviation academy, the energy coast, the Norwich University of the Arts.”
But learning new skills is not only for the next generation – Mr Field sees the chairmanship as a chance to develop his own leadership credentials, a challenge he is keen to throw down to businesses.
“I think there’s opportunity for businesses to be more ambitious. Sometimes they don’t know how good they are,” he said.
“It comes back to mindset. How many of our businesses want to grow and succeed? We have to excite them to succeed – it’s making them understand what their potential is.”
Doug Field takes over as chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership from Mark Pendlington, whose tenure ended in September.
Mr Field is also one of the five joint chief executives of the East of England Co-op.
He progressed to that role having joined the group as finance controller in 2008, and now has responsibility for the finances of the
business and all technology from the office PCs to till points.
He graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in accounting and finance from the University College of North Wales, and also worked for four years at Christie Group Plc as group financial controller and six years at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Bristol.
He lives in Great Horkesley, north of Colchester, with his wife and three children.
Norfolk and Suffolk’s economic strategy, published today, sets out a vision to create 88,000 jobs and boost the region’s economy by £17.5bn by 2036.
The document, produced by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership in collaboration with councils and other agencies, identifies key areas and opportunities for growth, such as the energy coast and Norwich-Cambridge corridor.
Targets of the strategy include building 140,000 new homes and supporting 30,000 new businesses in the next 19 years and have been based
on data collected from partners.
The document also highlights areas for improvement including Norfolk and Suffolk’s low skill and wage levels. Mobile connectivity, particularly in rural areas, is also indicated as a weakness.
The strategy relies on businesses, the LEP, local authorities and colleges and universities, which have come together to agree the proposals, playing their part in the wider vision.