Love Thy Neighbour

It’s called the Brian Clough Way and it connects Derby and Nottingham. 

The irony is that the apparent rivalry between the two cities is usually couched in footballing terms. Yet, it is the late, great, football manager – Old Big ‘Ead himself – that unites the two as the agreed moniker for the A52.

I say ‘apparent’ because, in my view, the perception of competition is often exaggerated.  

The two cites are neighbours and, yes, as with all neighbours, there are issues that divide, as well as issues that unite.

Derby and Nottingham have different histories, narratives and cultures. They look and feel different. But, they are both intensely proud places and rightly so.

There is now a move towards greater co-operation between the two - manifested in the proposed Derby-Nottingham Metro strategy.

Last week, an economic Metro case was launched which identified a series of indicators to show our connections, including the fact that 40,000 people commute regularly between the two cities.

The report also highlights the fact that many of our challenges are shared, not least poor attainment in our schools.

At the same time, initiatives such as the imminent arrival of the HS2 at Toton, provide both opportunity and threat (in particular to both city centres).

However, whilst there is a lot of interchange between the two cities, there remains a deal of ignorance about each other.

A quick visit on a shopping, sporting or leisure trip doesn’t make any of us an expert on place.

The genesis of the Metro initiative seems to be the failure to achieve a devolution deal for the D2N2 area and consequent fear that we must strengthen our collective voice - at least on areas on which we agree - if we are to get any recognition from government. For recognition, read money.

Politically, the UK appears to be stumbling towards a more federal model and not just in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The creation of City Devo Deals, Metro Mayors and Combined Authorities across England is at least giving the illusion of decentralisation – albeit one controlled by the decidedly centralist Treasury – and, as this month’s Budget showed, areas not seen as accepting this challenge will be bypassed.

In this context, identifying the case for a Derby-Nottingham Metro and building that common voice, does seem sensible enough as a direction of travel - even if it did get off to a bumpy start as limited consultation led to counties and district authorities being left out of the loop.

When it comes to cities punching their weight, size matters.

The Metro initiative recognises that both Derby (population 250,000) and Nottingham (population 320,000) are relatively small cities.

However, putting them together and then including the seven surrounding district authorities, results in a meaty population of 1.4million - placing the Metro area as fifth largest outside London in the top 50 in Europe.

Put like this there is potential for a louder voice though the fact that 60% of the population lives outside of the two city boundaries means that any sustainable Metro move will need to build a willing coalition amongst people and businesses, inside and outside of the core city areas.

Having said that, there are examples of city-twinning, such as Minneapolis-Saint Paul in the United States or Nuremburg-Furth in Germany.  I would imagine a prerequisite of any Metro would be mutual recognition as the two cities being equal partners.

I don’t see intense competition between Derby and Nottingham. In truth it’s more nuanced - different places with often complimentary concerns – sometimes punctuated by thorny issues such as the infamous World Cup bid or the current proposal to relocate HMRC jobs from Derby.

Certainly, in 10 years as managing director of Marketing Derby I cannot think of one inward investment in which we were in direct competition. 

Marketing Derby’s success has been anchored on an intense focus on attracting the type of investment that is right for Derby.

We receive significant funding from both the City and County Councils though our single largest source of income is from our Bondholder companies – businesses committed to seeing Derby thrive.

This doesn’t mean there is no space for collaboration - in fact, far from it.

Over the past few years, we have been increasingly working with colleagues in Nottingham (and in Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire) on various inward investment initiatives, including a shared presence at MIPIM and in European funding bids.

Most recently, we carried out a very successful joint promotion event in London together with Nottingham and indeed, Leicester.

And, of course, we are collaborating on international promotion activity via the Midlands Engine – most recently in China where we launched a 3-year strategy.

The danger of consultants’ reports is that of fixing imaginary problems and so, going forward, it is going to be vitally important that any Metro strategy focuses its energies on where greatest value can be added.

These are the big issues, including urgent improvement in education attainment and skills, reducing inequalities, ensuring infrastructure benefits both cities, delivery of our regeneration priorities and building a public-private coalition to raise our voice in Whitehall.  

Producing a Metro report was the relatively easy starter for ten – raising the cities’ mutual game will be the real challenge.