Top of the Midlands Engine

We are on the cusp of another football season (season ticket bought, optimistic head firmly on) and there’s an oft-quoted saying in the game that claims “the table never lies”.

In other words, at the end of a hard season, all the highs and lows, the good luck and bad, are reduced to a simple number – the final position - which becomes the key indicator as to whether a team has been successful or not.

It’s not just in sport that league tables are used as a measure of success.

These days the technique has migrated into almost all sectors – most controversially in measuring school performance – and, of course, the economy.

Last week, a new table - the UK Powerhouse Report - mapped the economic growth of the largest 45 UK cities by looking at GVA, probably the best proxy measure of growth.

The good news is that Derby came out in an impressive tenth place.

The city’s output was up 2.3% on a year ago and is projected to grow by 15.1% over the next ten years.

There is a ‘usual suspect’ factor to these tables and so it was no surprise to see Cambridge and Milton Keynes at the top, nor Middlesbrough and Belfast at the bottom.

Most worryingly for UK plc, the top ten is completely dominated by the south east, with only Derby and Manchester representing the rest of the country.

If you were to create a Midlands Engine table within the table, then Derby would be top and Wolverhampton bottom.

Regular readers of this column will be aware that, when it comes to economic performance tables, Derby does well and is generally there or thereabouts.

I like to think locals understand why this is the case but our presence at or near the top remains a complete surprise to most of the investors we deal with.

Perception of place is probably the strongest currency in the inward investment business. In other words, if a city is not perceived as being economically vibrant then it won’t even make the long-list.

This is why Marketing Derby spends so much time getting on the investment radar and why the core to our pitch is to point to the strength of our economy.

We know that this area is host to some of the world’s greatest businesses – the Bombardiers, JCBs, Nestles, Rolls-Royces and Toyotas of the world – but most investors do not.

I was at a dinner the other evening where I was asked, by a London-based professional, as to what drives the Derby economy?

When I started by mentioning Rolls-Royce there was complete surprise, first that I wasn’t talking about cars, but then at the fact that Derby hosted the company’s world HQ for civil aerospace, nuclear and corporate functions.

Changing perception is a long-term game. I’ve learnt that there is no silver bullet.

Cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester have struggled with this for decades. They have had considerable success in adopting strategies that shift how their cities are seen, but still have a long way to go.

Marketing Derby entered this field ten years ago when Westfield invested £340m in the city and we have continued to chip away ever since.

A couple of weeks ago we held an Embassy event and innovation exhibition at Lambeth Palace – attended by 150 people and another opportunity to put Derby’s best foot forward.

Last Saturday, we had a major weekend supplement in the Times newspaper, with a readership of 2.1 million. Again, creating a chance to influence a wider audience in a piece that covered the economy, but also culture and quality of life.

Closing the gap between perception and reality takes time, patience and consistency of message, but each event, each league table, contributes in its own way.

If I was to ask you, from the UK Powerhouse Report, which economy is growing fastest between Rotherham and Aberdeen, you may be surprised by the answer.