Growth group plans to lead the national pack

Rod Calvert
Rod Calvert

A REGIONAL group that aims to encourage economic growth is soon to interview potential candidates for the chairman’s role, writes David Tooley.

The South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) covers a huge area including Milton Keynes.

Rod Calvert, a SEMLEP interim board member, said: “We are recruiting for six private sector directors and a chair.

“We have had 26 applications for directors and three have been shortlisted for the role of chair. Interviews will be held shortly.”

Mr Calvert revealed to a Chamber of Commerce meeting near Dunstable that a local businessperson would be the chairman. He said: “We didn’t want someone from outside to fly in. They have to be someone from the region who understands it.

“We’ve had a bit of a hiccough but have got traction now, we are getting going. We have had an absolutely consistent message from government that we will form a key plank of economic development.

“They are saying: Who knows better than the people who live, work and operate here?

“The government has been very, very consistent and I am very encouraged by that.”

He added: “I believe we are well-regarded by government and will have a dynamic board that is business-led. We plan to lead the pack.”

The new board will comprise six directors from the private sector and an equal number from the public sector. The chairman will be from the private sector.

They will have a key role in talking to government about ways to encourage economic growth. SEMLEP, representing 70,000 businesses in an area with a population of 1.891million people is a net contributor to Treasury coffers.

SEMLEP, the seventh largest of the 34 enterprise partnerships approved by government, will be focusing on encouraging start-up and high growth companies and inward investment.

One of the criticisms of SEMLEP has been that it is being run on a shoestring, with people volunteering to do important jobs like talking to government and bidding for Enterprize Zone status, transport and infrastructure projects.

Milton Keynes businesses are represented on the interim board by Jonathan Bailey of the Institute of Directors and Rita Spada of the MK Chamber.

SEMLEP has had two recent meetings with government and has been invited to talk to Whitehall on a number of issues, including infrastructure problems. It has also been involved in a number of bidding activities for cash.

The partnership has been awarded £40,000 from Whitehall for training, analysis and research, strategic planning, and engaging business. A small team has been set up to review potential Regional Growth Fund Round 2 bids.

Three groups are working towards particular aims. The High Growth Business Group is lead by Chris Dunkley, of Bucks & MK Innovation and Growth Team and Prof Carsten Maple, Pro Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise at the University of Bedfordshire. There are also access to finance and skills and training growth groups and working groups on key economic topics.