Ready for the Fifth Age

Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of Brexit, there is a danger that our national discourse becomes inward-looking and parochial.

Since the referendum result a year ago, I have had something like this said to me, on a number of occasions, in places as diverse as America, China and unsurprisingly, in mainland Europe itself.

The perception expressed is that the UK has turned its back on the world and wants to go alone – a case of ‘stop the world, I want to get off’.

It was therefore very useful to have a counter-narrative - outward looking and global - at the Derby Property Summit last week from Yolande Barnes.

Yolande can’t be parochial - she is one of those people with the word ‘world’ in her job title – and, as Director of World Research for Savills, she gave a keynote that covered off over a thousand years of city evolution across the globe.

Savills itself employs 30,000 people across 60 countries and Yolande’s challenge was, using this source of intelligence, to draw on some learning for Derby.

The Property Summit is not only one of Marketing Derby’s main events, but it has become an important date on the property community calendar.

Of the 350 delegates packed into Pride Park Stadium in last week’s heat (do you remember that?), nearly 100 were from out of town, with many coming up from London.

We like the summit to provide some stretching thought leadership, as well as give updates on prospects in Derby, and Yolande’s scene-setter delivered this to a tee.

Her main contention is that cities (including of course the property and development community within cities) need to be aware of two key driving forces defining their future; technology and demographics.

On the first, her view is that we are about to enter what she called the ‘fifth age’ of cities – the digital age.

The evolution of the urban form has moved from the agrarian age, through industrialisation, mercantile and capital ages, to today’s digital challenge.

This model is easily applied to Derby; from county town up until the 17th century, through the industrial revolution of the 18th, rail connectivity of the 19th and suburban growth of the 20th centuries.

In her view, the digital age will provide smaller cities with massive opportunities as the significant critical mass required in the last phase – in particular access to capital – becomes less important.

That is where the second trend becomes important, that of demographic change.

The headline is simple – by 2025 more than 75% of the world’s workforce will be millennials and cities will have to fight to attract and retain them in their workforce.

More than this, well-educated and productive millennials will invariably be mobile and ruthless in their choice of location.

Economic development goes hand-in-hand with urbanisation and all research is showing that talent increasingly wants to be located in city centres.

The fall and rise of city centres has been well documented and you can see this across America and Europe. Cities like Manchester have led the way but others are becoming places of choice for living, working and playing.

Yolande argued that, in the future, out-of-town retail and business parks will struggle when pitted against the hustle and bustle of downtown. A couple of weeks ago I saw a suburban shopping mall in California converted into a college.

But, it is clearly happening closer to home.

For the first time in centuries, last year, there were more residential units planned in Derby city centre than in the rest of the wider city.

Add to this brands, such as TK Maxx - which has announced new investments in the city - plus the massive success of Derby City Council’s Connect office scheme, and you start to get a glimpse that maybe Yolande is on to something.

A compact city 90 minutes from London, home to some of the world’s leading companies and a University now rated in the UK’s top 20%, with a city centre under transformation having attracted over £3billion of investment, may well be a candidate to pilot the city of the digital age…   

Derby - Be Surprised

Ten years ago, Westfield carried out an intensive marketing campaign, aimed at convincing major retail brands to consider opening a store in their shiny new Derby scheme which was, at that time, still under construction.

The campaign was called ‘Be Surprised’.

Westfield, based in Sydney Australia, may be the world’s largest retail property company, but they had no presence in Europe and their market entry euro-plan was to start with the UK, before moving onto the continent itself.

The strategy was simple. Buy a number of key shopping centres and sites – Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Nottingham, London, Tunbridge Wells et al – and, over a period of time, develop them out.

The London scheme was always going to be developed second, so the analysts scoured the UK and crunched the numbers on where to start.

The result, one that truly shocked the market, was that they selected Derby to be first, making an unprecedented £340m investment in the city.

Many will remember the construction phase, with five massive cranes towering over the city, but less known was the effort that had to be put into attracting tenants.

For Westfield, the opportunity seemed straightforward. The numbers showed Derby had the strongest demographic yet the weakest product. Build it and they will come.

Employment and salaries in and around the city were high but the opportunity to spend was poor.

This meant that Derby had become a place of convenience not choice and the city leaked its wealth to the likes of Meadowhall and Nottingham.   

But, in trying to sell that narrative to retailers, Westfield kept running into the gap between perception and reality.

The logic of the numbers may have pointed to Derby but there was an awful lot of convincing to do.

The retail community and their professional advisors were quite resistant and needed convincing – thus the creation of the ‘Be Surprised’ campaign.

Later in 2007, when Westfield Derby opened its doors, retailers that had never had a presence in the city – brands such as All Saints, Build-a-Bear, H&M, Paperchase and Zara – were present.

The 2008 crash changed the world and certainly ended Westfield’s grand plans, with only Derby and London being developed. 

They sold off their UK interests as the strategy shifted to focus on iconic cities (apparently, the cash from Derby’s sale is being used to build Westfield Milan which opens in 2020).

The need to work on retailers’ perceptions has been successfully continued by the team at intu (which bought the centre in 2014 for £390m) - think of the arrival of brands such as Byron, Carluccio's, Cath Kidston and MAC among others – and the sell is getting a little easier now there is a 10-year track record.

The gap between perception and reality, and the need to sell ‘surprise’, have been core factors in the work of Marketing Derby and remains so.

I still meet investors or business leaders oblivious to the nature and strength of our economy and the opportunities that provides.

The city has attracted £3billion of investment and many of our greatest successes have emanated from London as the UK’s centre of power and decision-making.

That is why this summer we are intensifying our efforts in the capital.

Last week, we opened a virtual base in the city and will soon be hosting promotional investor events at Lambeth Palace and City Hall, as well as launching a London Ambassador Club. 

We still like to surprise – our London office innovation is unique and has grabbed much attention and positive comment from investors – but today our pitch has a more confident platform and is more likely to be based on opportunity, as opposed to revelation.



The Derby Way

A tired Market Place in desperate need of investment; a struggling football team regularly changing managers; fear of terrorism; and, a bad tempered national political climate with genuine concerns over the state of the global economy.

The French have a phrase for it– "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose" – the more things change, the more things stay the same.

One could be cynical and say not much appears to have changed in 40 years.

But, deep down, we all know change is constant, as any cursory glance over 40 years of personal photographs tells us.

More than this, time, and its historical perspective, has a way of illuminating connections and counterpoints through its rhythmic cycles.

In 1977, the new Assembly Rooms opened, which 40 years later we are about to demolish. The UK had just confirmed its membership of the European club we are about to leave. The Rams now have Gary Rowett instead of Tommy Docherty and the oil crisis has been usurped by climate change.

Plus ça change?

And yet, cities are dynamic ecosystems, with communities constantly evolving, as Derby surely is.

It says something about the values of our country that it took until 1977 for Derby to be awarded city status. Many people mistake city for size, the bigger the place the more likely to carry that moniker.

This is simply not true in the UK where such recognition was more likely connected to cathedrals and castles. Our smallest city is the tiny (and beautiful) hamlet of St Davids, population 1,600.

There is a political reason why small towns, such as Canterbury, Chester, Chichester or Lichfield were given city status, whilst economic workhouses such as Derby, Swansea and Wolverhampton have had to bid in rare competitions.

Nevertheless, in 1977, the home of Erasmus Darwin, John Flamsteed, the world’s first factory and Rolls-Royce, finally became a city by winning the Silver Jubilee competition.

Now, in 2017, we celebrate our 40th birthday and, like any person hitting that middle-age landmark, we can indulge in a little navel-gazing and glancing back, as well as contemplating the future.

I’m interested in the psychology of place, the core character if you will, and, my contention is that Derby is still finding its footing in being a ‘city’ – but, like any 40-year old, we are getting there and discovering a momentum and self-awareness that we wish we'd had whilst younger.

In many respects, the new city got off to a bad start. Not too much happened over its first 20 years - years that might be described as being lost.

During the 1990s we began to see a new ambition emerge - illustrated by the creation of the University of Derby, the return of single-tier local authority unitary status and the opening of Pride Park.

These were important milestones in maturity but it wasn’t until we hit 30 years of age, in 2007, that Derby finally underwent a genuine paradigm shift on its journey - from 19th century industrial town, to 21st century technology city.

The existential crisis that swept all places of industry came late to Derby – most possibly because we never faced the removal of our core economy in the way the Newcastles and Liverpools of the world had.

In Derby, our mega-employment sectors - of aerospace and rail - remained and, indeed, were supplemented by the arrival of Toyota.

Being home to ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ is a handy descriptor but it hides changes to the nature of our core economy, which no longer requires low or semi-skilled labour.

Today, our employment is based on technology and innovation, one that demands higher and more flexible skills. One in eight of our workforce are employed in hi-tech functions and the city’s salaries are second only to London.

This is as true for the many small to medium businesses in sectors such as composites, creative and digital, as it is for the bigger clusters in aerospace, automotive, nuclear and rail.

It’s a fact that our education system has yet to master which is why too many locals struggle to enter that market.

I can pin the actual day and time when Derby began its true city transformation.

It was Tuesday 9th October 2007, when at precisely 9.30am, Westfield threw open its doors for the first time.

For Derby, there was no way back.

On that day, at the height of the consumer-led economy, an astonishing 158,000 people came to see the sparkling new shopping centre. Many commented that ‘it doesn’t feel like Derby’.

Westfield (now intu Derby of course) was a significant piece in the city centre jigsaw.

Subsequently, we have seen £3billion invested into Derby, partly rediscovering our heritage (the Cathedral Quarter hotel, Magistrates’ Court and Council House being good examples) and partly through new build that reveals our future (Derby QUAD, Friar Gate Square, Derby Arena and the iHub for example).

Some schemes personify both, the best example being Derby College’s Roundhouse, a genuinely world-class building, melding the best of the old with the shock of the new.

I appreciate some people struggle with change but the creation and attraction of wealth, and its subsequent retention, are absolutely essential ingredients for a vibrant city in which to live, work and play.

Just consider extent of the cultural activity this year – 100,000 people at the Format festival; 4,000 attending Brian Cox’s science lecture at the Derby Arena; 250,000 coming to see the Poppies at the Silk Mill; or the 20,000+ expected at the 3aaa County Ground to see Elton John and the Women's World Cup Cricket.

Add to this the credible festivals for Film, Comedy, Books, Folk and the iconic Feste– all of which would have been unthinkable in 1977.

I don’t know about the next 40 years, but in 2027 the city hits the age of 50, often described as the new 40.

I believe by then that we have nailed the next wave of challenges, be it a new performance venue, a thriving Becketwell, regenerated St Peters Quarter, a reclaimed riverside for the people, excellent schools and an appropriate showcase for the art of Joseph Wright.

In 1717, the Silk Mill was under construction, and over the following 300 years we have discovered that, as a city - yes, a city - we are at our best when innovating and driving forward.

Maybe it’s the Derby way.

Plus ça change, c’est le chemin Derby?















Election Needs New Thinking

So, for the third consecutive year, we are to hold a national plebiscite.

The general election of 2015, plus last year’s ‘in-out’ referendum on the European Union, is to be followed by a snap election on 8th June.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has received criticism for calling it, though I felt uneasy when, Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair and Theresa May took the reigns off David Cameron, both without a vote.

I appreciate we do not have a presidential system but it seems only right that a new prime minister wins their own mandate.

This election is going to be very different, as its outcome will shape our future for decades.

Some argue this is the most important since 1945; others go back to the Great Reform Act of 1832 (consciously echoed in the proposed Great Reform Bill of 2017) or even the Act of Union of 1707.

Whether or not you are excited by these historical precedents, the importance of June 8th is guaranteed - if only due to the fact that the UK will most likely leave the EU during the next parliament.

The Article 50 Brexit process has begun and we could be leaving as soon as March 2019.

For the first time since 1973, the United Kingdom will stand outside of the world’s biggest economy and our largest export market.

The nature of the new EU/UK relationship is being negotiated but Brexit will bring both massive opportunities and challenges.

The world has changed since 1973 and the UK will need to change too. It will not be business as usual.

A key question is how - as a nation of 64 million people and currently the fifth largest economy in the world - we can grow our economy and prosper?

How will we differentiate ourselves and what is our plan?

Frankly, I don’t expect many answers to appear in the parties’ election manifestos being launched next week.

Politics is a short-term business buffeted by daily events. Elections magnify this, as we will no doubt soon see.

However, if I could influence their content - with my Marketing Derby, local business and city regeneration hat on - I would argue for commitment to long-term investment, aimed at creating a new economic vibrancy across the country to enable us to compete internationally.

This would have four key strands: education, infrastructure, trade and decentralisation.

I’ve written about education before but, in order to compete, we have to significantly up our game. The UK’s performance in international tables has seen us slip so far down that we are now struggling to stay within the top 30.

Only 50% of school pupils achieve 5 GCSEs, including maths and English. If we seriously think we can compete in a post-Brexit world whilst this is the case, then we are kidding ourselves.

We have to depoliticise education and see it as an investment. London raised its game over a ten-year period, rising from the worst to being the best system in the country.

It can be done, but it can’t be done on the cheap.

We cannot keep robbing Peter to pay Paul. Our children are not dumb and, with investment, we could become the best-educated country in the world - whatever it takes, it will pay back.

Second, we need to invest in our infrastructure.

As a nation, our inability to build new housing,  fix potholes, construct new airports and rail lines - even something as simple as electrifying the Midland Mainline - is nothing short of embarrassing.

Short-termism has constrained investment and led to expensive funding trickery, such as PFI, to hide real costs. The ability of government to issue 100-year bonds at attractive market rates has never been better timed.

Thirdly, we can expect to lose some of the exports currently being made to the EU, whatever the eventual deal. This means we will have to step up our game outside of Europe.

Yet, Germany’s exports to China are eight times greater than ours, which of course means that EU membership is not a block.

So, we urgently need to figure what is the problem. Do we simply not have the products or do we not sell effectively? It can only be one or the other and we haven’t got long to sort this.

Finally, we need to tackle our national obsession with centralisation.

Whatever happens with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – in various stages of drifting away - we should seek to find a local solution for England.

The creation of Combined Authorities, Devo/City Deals and new mayors is a start of sorts, but genuine decentralisation will need to include tax and spend powers at local levels, across the whole country, not just in chosen parts.

The UK has a structural two-tier economy. London performs at 173% of GVA average and no region outside of the southeast performs above 85%.

The only way we can redefine and rebalance this spatial dysfunctionality is to do what every other developed democracy does…find a federal settlement, based on subsidiarity and trust.

The need to shift from Punch and Judy politics by putting innovation at the heart of our thinking has never been greater.





Finding our Purpose; How to Make a Place

In what turned out to be his final film, the ethereal Being There, Peter Sellers played the role of Chauncey Gardner, a simple-minded gardener who becomes accidental adviser to the President of the United States.

The film is an allegorical tale, packed with Chauncey’s salt-of-the-earth observations on the effects of seasons on gardening - first comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter - being misinterpreted as pillars of economic wisdom by the Washington DC elite.

Whilst it’s easy to scoff at Chauncey’s homespun recurrent natural cycles, their essential truth can be applied in so many circumstances.

Remember, contrary to common belief, King Canute was not trying to stop the tide, but rather he was showing his subjects the limit of his powers.

Attempts to resist natural rhythms can be futile – remember Gordon Brown’s ‘no boom or bust’ – so surely the trick is not to resist but to try and influence.

In my experience, this approach is applicable to the evolution of cities.

Like empires, cities rise and fall, but they can then rise again – witness, for example, the stories of Rome or Istanbul.

A city does not have any given right to success - fate can deal a brilliant or terrible hand - but the most consistently successful cities do share a common feature, they adapt, they change and duck and dive with circumstances.

We often tend to think that cities are the product of free market activity, that they are just as they are but, in truth, every city is the product of conscious intervention.

Derby exists because the Romans identified it as a low crossing point of the River Derwent. The Danes liked its central location, establishing it as one of the 5 Danelaw Boroughs, a status it lost in the 10th century.

After 700 years of relative quiet came an explosion of activity in the 18th century - the establishment of the world’s first factory at the Silk Mill, the failed invasion of Bonnie Prince Charlie and becoming a vibrant centre of enlightenment.

All of this helped shape the city of Derby we inherit today.

The disadvantage for the UK of being first out of the industrial revolution blocks means we are first to face the challenge of de-industrialisation.

The reason that lay behind the growth of so many places – especially in the midlands and the north – has disappeared and, over the past few decades, cities have been seeking a new purpose.

In the business this is called placemaking.

But, who drives it? Who decides what a place can become?

In Victorian times this was very much the domain of businessmen such as Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham or Thomas Bass in Derby.

In the 20th century, the role became subsumed into local government.

Today, there are very few Chamberlains or Basses – accumulation of personal wealth seems to overrule civic philanthropy – and local government has been curtailed.

Yet, one could argue, the need for placemaking has never been greater and we urgently need to find new models that make this happen.

It’s not just the fabled millennials who demand interesting and vibrant cities, but so does Generation X and the Baby Boomers.

The 21st century city needs to be vibrant and dynamic, urbane and cultural.

It’s not a nice-to-do, it’s a must-do as over the next 50 years cities that remain dull cultural deserts, places of convenience, and not choice, will slowly fade.











From Cannes to Hollywood

Here’s a question for you to consider – what is the connection between Marilyn Monroe, Amanda Solloway and Melanie Leech?

Well, at least I now have your attention…

The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, Marketing Derby Bondholders. Let me explain a little more - all three have been ‘represented’ in the past week at Bondholder events.

Last week, we held a Bondholder briefing at Deda, sharing the stories, activities and outcomes from our time at MIPIM.

So, let me first start with Melanie Leech.

Melanie is Chief Executive of the powerful British Property Federation (BPF). Describing itself as the ‘voice of British real estate’, its membership includes names such as Axa, British Land and Hammerson. Real estate represents an astonishing £1,667 billion of UK assets and contributes £95.6 billion GVA to the economy each year.

Therefore, Melanie’s is a voice that matters with government and we were lucky that she agreed to sit on our dedicated Derby Question and Answer panel, held at the Midlands UK MIPIM pavilion in Cannes earlier this month. Our chosen subject was called “Heart of the City” and in this we explored how regional cities were having to step up their game, to become places of choice and not just convenience. Other speakers included representatives from Gleeds, Morgan Sindall and David Williams, Chairman of the Derby Renaissance Board.

The challenge implied in the title kept cropping up over the MIPIM week.

There is emerging recognition that traditional funding models - centred on stand-alone, single-use developments, predicated on long-term covenant-backed leases - are no longer fit for purpose. The world is changing and changing fast.

Customers, and in particular the talented millennials which today’s companies need to employ, are demanding flexibility; flexibility in leases, spaces and functions. Developers wishing to draw a red line around their site, with no regard to the wider community or city, or who fail to design in features such superfast broadband, now considered as important as running water, are going to struggle to find tenants.

Operators such as We Work, or developments such as Argent’s Kings Cross scheme, are considered as pointers towards the future.

A good example locally would be Derby City Council’s incredibly successful Connect scheme, now operating almost 100,000 square feet across the city in seven schemes (of which, of course, Marketing Derby is a tenant of one).  

A few days earlier, together with the East Midlands Chamber, we had hosted a major policy session on the Industrial Strategy at the Derby Conference Centre – itself a perfect illustration of these new flexibilities, having transformed from the mono-use British Rail Training College into a dynamic business hub.

Successive governments have resisted the concept of an industrial strategy for decades, but we suddenly have a department with it in its title (Business Energy and Industrial Strategy - BEIS) and a Green Paper out for consultation.

Our event included a detailed Q&A with the MP for Derby North, Amanda Solloway. Amanda, who also sits on the BEIS Select Committee, was encouraging businesses to read the strategy and submit comments.

I’ve always been promoting the idea of such a strategy – many other countries consider it a basic requirement – and Brexit, in 2019, makes it all the more important. The debate at the session was incredibly engaged and one interesting aspect around which there appeared to be a consensus amongst companies, large and small, was that the basic education of our future workforce needed to be included as one the ten pillars underpinning the plan.

Finally, and most intriguingly, onto Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn, or at least a Marilyn lookalike, was a special guest welcoming Bondholders to a memorable event held last week at Hollywood House.

This amazing building, located in Blackbrook near Belper, has been redeveloped as a getaway, for corporates or for friends and family. Each room is themed and designed on particular stars of the silver screen - a John Wayne room designed as a cabin or the Hitchcock room with its inevitable shower – and it’s another classic example of a hidden gem in our midst.

Three Bondholder events held within a week – each attended by over 100 companies – international real estate, government strategy and a bit of Hollywood – now, that’s entertainment!    

Why we Cannot let Walls Replace our Bridges

One of the first albums I ever bought was John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges. Typical of its time, it came fancy-packaged with lots of bells and whistles, photo inserts, lyrics and a cover that allowed you to mix and match various pictures of the master himself.

Lennon was the edgy-Beatle and he laid bare the honesty of his life experience through his music. Never afraid to enter the political milieu, I suspect were he alive today, John Lennon would have something to say about the current vogue for creating walls, as opposed to bridges.

Soon after World War II, a new international liberal financial consensus was built at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire. This was based on principles of open and free trade, eventually overseen by institutions such as the WTO and IMF, with security guaranteed by the UN and NATO.

Bretton Woods led to the rebuilding of trust between countries that only a few years earlier had fought against each other in a war that claimed 60million lives.  

Conference participants included the United States and United Kingdom but also France, Germany and Japan – pitched together in an economic collaboration once considered unimaginable.

By the late 1950s, the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, was claiming that ‘you’ve never had it so good’, whilst in the 1960s, over in the United States, John F Kennedy created his Camelot. It’s as if the world had turned from black and white into full techno-colour, and the period following 1945 witnessed unprecedented economic growth across the world.

Yes, there were many, many, downsides and failings – think Algeria, Vietnam, the middle-east and Afghanistan/Iraq. But, the big picture of decolonisation, civil rights, wealth, health and longevity, all led to a general increase in global living standards.

Co-operation between nations expanded to include new regional trading alliances - such as the EU, ASEAN, SADC - as well as the creation of multi-national initiatives to combat challenges such as climate change.  

Then, at some point, the music stopped and - slowly at first, more rapidly recently - a new mood has took hold, seemingly based on angst, fear and desire to build walls not bridges. Sure, the vote for Brexit and election of Trump are important straws in the wind that help illustrate this new direction of travel but, in my view, the roots lie much deeper.

The economic crash of 2008 was often described as a massive heart attack for our post-war liberal economic paradigm.

Before 2008, we had been told that the collapse of the Berlin Wall and growth of China had led to the ‘end of history’ and we waited in anticipation for others to join the party, starting with the BRICs, to be eventually joined by the middle-east and even Africa.

Looking back, I think 2008 was more a stroke than heart attack. Yes, the collapse of the world economy was sudden but, in truth, we were protected from much of its potential brutality, protected if you will, by the monetary and fiscal actions of governments and those very global institutions that had been asleep at the wheel leading to the crash.

Put it this way, the cash machines continued to work and the sky didn’t fall.

This was a very different experience to that of the previous crash in 1929, which led to the great depression of the 1930s and the terror of the 1940s. This time, our damage has been existential.

As if in a stroke, our nervous system has been attacked, slowly, cruelly and, almost ten years later we still lack any sense of when it will end.

Consider these examples to illustrate my point. First, the Office for National Statistics recently published the numbers on household spending, a little known metric that essentially measures our day-to-day economic wellbeing.

In 2016, weekly household expenditure averaged £528.90, still less than in 2006 when it was £547.10. In other words, we are still poorer today than ten years ago. This has never happened before in the 60 years of upward growth since 1945. That’s personal wealth.

Let’s consider the corporate and look at the RBS bank as an example. In 2008, the taxpayer pumped in £45billon to save this institution from collapse and since then it has lost an astonishing further £55billion.  

The RBS is not alone, similar tales are repeated across the world, but the pain in the developed west has been difficult for people to take. The apprehension is expressed in a well-rehearsed playbook - mistrust of the political class, of experts, of the media, of institutions and, of course, of immigrants.

The instinct has been to desire easy answers, in the comfort of an imagined past, in doubling down on self-protection, in building walls and not bridges. This issue is still in motion and trades alliances are under review, protectionism is becoming an attractive proposition.

For countries like the UK, for cities like Derby, this is a massive challenge. Our economic mojo has been outward looking and trade-based. Our communities come from, and relate to, the rest of the world. If bridges are to be replaced by walls then we will struggle.        

We Need a Road Map to Help us Navigate These Tricky Times

So, after decades of dogged resistance the UK has finally decided to adopt an industrial strategy. More than that, and as if to manifest the fact, the government has created a new department, called Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), headed up by the urbane Greg Clark.

The message is clear - the era of playing laissez-faire economics is over and, in a post-Brexit world, the UK government will become more interventionist.

A Green Paper, Building our Industrial Strategy, was published last month and the consultation period closes soon.

At its heart are ten key pillars – including themes such as skills, infrastructure and, music to my ears, inward investment.

The idea of adopting a plan to shape economic growth has been generally welcomed and businesses are being urged to contribute opinion, prior to the production of a White Paper. There are a few voices of dissent, generally coated in a critique based on concerns about ‘picking winners’, laced with worried references to British Leyland.

To me, these are tired attempts to frighten the horses, propagated by an old guard, who only wish to see government ‘move out of the way’.

As a country, as a planet even, we reaped the seeds of that approach in the crash of 2008 and, today, taxpayers across the world are still picking up the bill.

Let me put it this way:

Can you think of an organisation - from the smallest corner shop to the largest corporation - which would set out without a clear definition of its purpose and some semblance of a plan as to how it proposes to allocate its energy and resources in order to achieve that objective?

No, neither can I. Companies do it, even cities have to produce economic development plans, so why not a country?

It remains a complete mystery to me as to why for so long the UK has resisted this, whilst the entire time losing market share to countries, such as Germany and Singapore, who happily adopt such plans.

Oddly, the resistance to creating an industrial strategy appears to cross political boundaries. The governments of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both avoided the subject.

Derby felt what it was like to be on the front-line of this hands-off approach in 2011 when the Thameslink contract was awarded to Siemens in Germany.

I sat in the meetings with Vince Cable where we had this out. We asked, why was the UK government happy to export jobs?

I remember meeting with the President of Bombardier, in his Berlin office, where he expressed frustration and confusion as to why the UK government had awarded the multi-billion pound IEP (Inter City Express) deal to Hitachi, when it was illegal for Bombardier to bid for work in Japan.

Isn’t it ironic therefore that one of the first uses of devo-deal cash, remember, that is UK taxpayers’ cash, is a shameful decision by Liverpool City Region to buy £460m of trains from that bastion of fair trade and transparency, Switzerland, when they could be built by Bombardier here in Derby?

Can you imagine the brouhaha if Derby dared do that to Liverpool?

Don’t get me wrong, an industrial strategy is not a script for protectionism. Far from it, a healthy plan will look out and be globally focused. However, it will have a view on growth sectors, how we might invest in education and training required for the future and, yes, how we propose to procure.

Greg Clark’s previous incarnation was in DCLG, where he earned a reputation for his genuine interest in cities and their economies. We presented Derby’s masterplan to him at MIPIM UK when he took the virtual reality tour of our key sites.

Each year, the respected think-tank, Centre for Cities, produces its seminal Cities Outlook, a competitive scorecard of city performance.

The 2017 edition inevitably looks at the impact of Brexit on cities and argues that the industrial strategy needs to be place-based.

In its analysis of the export fingerprint of UK cities, the report is able to isolate city reliance on EU and wider world markets.

The picture is mixed – nearly half of exports go to the EU, with some cities having little global footprint, therefore being exposed to the potential impact of Brexit.

The report picks out Derby for special mention. Derby tops the table with 75% of our exports going beyond the EU, in particular to markets in North America and the Far East.

The world trade environment is already changing and Brexit will make this change even greater in the UK.

The new UK industrial strategy must provide a road map to help us navigate these challenging times.

City Needs to Support Education Standards

You cannot have failed to notice a disturbing pattern - the fact that education in Derby has attracted national attention, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

The detail may change in any one year but the general narrative is that we host a school system that punches well below its weight.

It pains me to point this out but our Primary system ranks in the bottom 10 nationally (out of 160) and 60% of our secondary schools are ranked in the bottom quartile. 

This has to be of genuine concern to us all - as citizens, employers and parents/guardians - which why I raised it in a serious moment at last week’s Marketing Derby Annual Business Event. 

That’s not to say there are not excellent schools, great teachers and some fantastic success stories in the city – there most surely are. But, the simple fact is, as a whole, we are slipping behind and we have be honest about the need to do something about it. 

Investors we deal with are certainly aware of how the quality of the city’s education impacts on recruitment, relocation and even property values. 
The irony is that Derby’s economy has moved up the technological ladder and we now host talent-thirsty employers in advanced manufacturing, digital, professional, creative and service sectors. 

The average salaries in the city are now second only to London – our economy punches well above its weight.

This should mean fantastic opportunities for the city’s young people, opportunities to get a quality, well-paid job. However, too many are leaving school with below average qualifications and so many of these roles are taken by others.

I’ve been trying to get my head around why we are where we are on this. How can a city, which consistently tops economic performance tables, have such a disconnected school system?

Education is a political minefield, fuelled by ideologies on what is right and wrong, and the opinions of outsiders are often not welcomed.

Yet, we all have skin in the game - not least as taxpayers who fund the service - and so over the Christmas break I read Ofsted’s Annual Report, produced by the outgoing Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

This was presented to Parliament in December and you may remember the headlines as to how Derby’s schools standards were described as ‘pitifully low’.

Whatever you think of Sir Michael, or Ofsted, the report makes interesting reading.

Straight up, you realise that Derby is not alone. ‘Pitiful’ could also be used to describe the performance across much of the midlands and the north.

Take the quality of Primary schools. 

There are 160 education authority areas and in the top quartile most of their schools (high 90% to 100%) are counted as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’. The top tier is completely dominated by London, with 14 out of the top 25 areas in the country being in our capital. 

I remember when education in London was best avoided and you may be surprised to hear that boroughs such as Lewisham, Hackney, Camden and Greenwich are all national high-flyers.   

Derby sits in the bottom quartile, at 78%, along with the likes of Wolverhampton (78%) Nottingham (80%), Birmingham (82%) Derbyshire and Leicestershire (both 86%).

The same pattern is repeated in the Secondary system. 

London dominates, with an astonishing fact that all 13 top places are taken by boroughs, which host 100% of schools that are outstanding or good. 

In Liverpool, the figure is 50%. In Derby and Derbyshire, it is 67%.

An initiative called the London Challenge was key in transforming their system from the worst to the best. 

The issue goes beyond Derby, or even the midlands and the north. We are slipping down the international tables too.

The recent OECD Pisa rankings placed the UK at 21st and 27th for reading and maths respectively. 

In my view, we need a UK Challenge, if not that, certainly a Midlands Challenge. 

Last week, the government launched its plan for Brexit; this week it launched a new industrial strategy.

The simple fact is, unless we significantly raise our education standards, the ambition of neither will be achieved. 

Meanwhile, Derby cannot hang around waiting for government. 

The time has come for Derby to join-up forces in a concerted, collaboration of governors, heads, teachers, parents, employers and pupils to focus on and support the improvement of schools and raising of standards.

I believe we have the desire and ability to do this and expect that 2017 may be the year it kicks off.

If London can do it, then so can Derby.

Is Britain Capable of Delivering Hundreds of Billions of Pounds worth of Infrastructure Spend?

Credited with writing the first English dictionary (and married at St Werburgh’s in Derby of course) one of Samuel Johnson’s most quoted quips is that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

A contemporary version of the same sentiment could be that “infrastructure is the first refuge of a chancellor.”

The promise of ‘jam tomorrow’ has always been central to political discourse as there is nothing easier than painting a bright vision of epoch-changing projects, to be funded and delivered by someone else, in another time, far, far away.

The last two occupants of 11 Downing Street were past masters; Gordon Brown loved to pull giant rabbits out of massive hats and nothing thrilled George Osborne more than wearing a hi-vis vest and safety goggles.

The past month has seen current incumbent, Philip Hammond, join the club, recently announcing a clutch of grand projects - HS2, Hinkley Point, Heathrow third runway and that grand dame of infrastructure, housing.

OK, I know we have heard it all before – Heathrow’s expansion was first debated in Parliament an astonishing 60-years ago, Hinkley Point promised we would be cooking our turkeys on its power this Christmas, HS2 seems to be re-announced every few months and housing is our hardy national infrastructure perennial.

Still, there is nothing wrong with any of these – depending on your view of aviation, nuclear power, trains and greenfield development of course – but surely it would be good to see something finally happen.

My question is any of it likely? Do we have either the capacity or capability to deliver?

Opposition to all the projects above is pretty constant and interest groups appear to be able to sprinkle queries, doubts and blocks all over their purpose, funding or construction.

I heard opposition to the growth of Heathrow being expressed based on predicted air pollution measures in west London in 2050.

We all know the story of the difficulties of improving a roundabout on the A38 in Little Eaton, due to the relocation of a family white-clawed crayfish.

There was time when Britain ruled the infrastructure world, truly being number one, as the legacy of 19th century bridges, tunnels and stations stands evidence.

Last week, I was reminded of this arriving in Bristol at the wonderful Temple Meads station, designed by one of infrastructure’s true superstars, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Proudly announced and badged as a High Speed Train, the journey felt anything like, averaging a turgid 56mph between Derby and Bristol.

Passengers who had pre-booked (and so had to sit in pre-allocated seats) were herded into a single carriage where the electronic seat notices were not working. Needless to say, adjacent carriages remained empty where the electronic seat notices were working.

Oh, and of course, despite the train trundling all the way from Edinburgh to Plymouth, there was no buffet available.

The other week I caught a real High Speed Train, in China, which went twice the distance in the same time, averaging 112mph. Oh, and there was a buffet.

I welcome the £23billion included in the autumn statement for infrastructure investment, I really do, but I question how much of this will see light of day?

If delivered, public sector net investment will still only stand at 2.3% of GDP, half of what it has been in the past.

If the Chancellor and the Office for Budget Responsibility are correct, then in the post-Brexit world we really will need to change our culture of planning and delivery.

UK plc will have to pull its socks up, liberate today’s Brunel’s and rediscover a taste for delivery.

Forkin's China Daily

MD of marketing Derby, John Forkin, travels this week to China as part of a major Midlands trade mission - here is his daily personal blog


Monday, 30th October - Crossing Continents 

This is the week that the Midlands Engine comes alive as 50 business and civic leaders converge on China for a major trade and investment mission...or so we hope.

On Wednesday, representatives from Derby, Birmingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and others, plus UK government, all meet in Shanghai to collaborate our marketing efforts on an unprecedented scale...more on that on Wednesday.

First, to make the trip more efficient, the delegates are visiting their economic partners' cities - in the case of Derby, Hefei (pronounced Her-Fey) and Derbyshire, Anhui (pronounced Ann-we).

Descending in Hefei today is Team Derbyshire, including leaders from the City and County Councils, the University of Derby, the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Peak District and Derbyshire, the Derby Renaissance Board, various businesses and of course, Marketing Derby.

The journey over is smooth but long, a straight 22 hours, thankfully lacking delays or any sense of drama.

Having just returned from a brief holiday in New York last Friday, I pinch myself with how quickly we can criss-cross the world today.

Travel is the lifeblood of globalisation and part of Derby's economic DNA...being home to the likes of Bombardier, Rolls-Royce and Toyota.

Post-Brexit, there is lots of talk about Britain being 'open for business' - the world appears to think we have shut up shop and so trips like this are going to become commonplace.

Bob Betts, our Chairman, and myself, leave Derby Sunday morning, gliding through Heathrow (more of a hum today than the usual hassle) to Beijing's gleaming new Capital Airport (with the delightfully old school moniker, PEK).

As we come into land I spot the Great Wall, a reminder that China is no Jonny-come-lately, we must treat it with due respect.

We skip through the health-check, immigration, customs, security-check, pick up our baggage loaded with brochures, drop off our baggage loaded with brochures, and finally stumble onto the flight transfer to Hefei.

The plane is packed and we appear to be the only Europeans. We are each given a sweet bread roll to eat.

As we catch a cab into town, I am immediately struck by the sheer scale of the Chinese boom.

Hefei is home to 7 million people and its gateway appears to be mile after mile of tall, thin, regimented, residential apartment blocks. There is chaos in the streets as vehicular battles ensue for road space.

In the midst of this forest, sits our 25-storey hotel, its inimitable Sports Bar packed with fully costumed Chinese people celebrating - yes, you got it - Halloween.

As the jet lag seeps through our veins, we sit up at the bar, first Tsingtao beer and noodle bowl of the week, surrounded by deadly ghouls, wizards and a fire-eater who keeps dropping his flames.

Before sloping off to bed, I reflect on how this is going to be an enlightening glimpse into how the world is shaping up for the 21st century...

Tuesday, 1st November - Building Blocks

Today is Derby and Derbyshire, D2, Day, in Hefei and Anhui.

Today, we find out if our efforts have won over the respect of our Chinese hosts and, if that is the case,  whether doors will soon be opened to new contacts.

Most of our 25 strong D2 delegation rock up to breakfast sharing various tales of jet-lagged sleep and insomnia patterns.

Breakfast in China can be a lavish affair. The food choice is truly global with Chinese nationals focused on what, to western eyes, looks suspiciously like dinner-dumplings and rice.

Team D2 tend to stick to cereal, pastries and toast. I find an omelette station with a cheery chef offering a bespoke service - I'll save the dumplings experience until later.

We kick off bright and bushy with a team briefing held in the lobby at 8.15. At this stage, team D2 looks shiny, spick and span - ready for business.

We are taken in quick succession to two locations - an innovation centre and car factory.

The journey is a genuine assault on the senses - our bus weaving through chaotic traffic, drowning in a cacophony of hooting. The cars appear to push and shove each other without actually touching.

It seems most of Hefei's 7 million people have somewhere else to be and we are caught in the middle.

These opening visits are clearly taken as an opportunity by our hosts to showcase their superstar projects.

We do exactly the same in Derby - show our best to impress before getting down to business.

Of course, being China, the main challenge is fully conceptualising the sheer scale of projects. For example, the planned Economic and Technological Development Area looks bigger than the city of Derby.

Later we hear that in 2015 the government has set a target for 500 new airports to be built by 2020. We visit the one planned for Hefei which will be ready for the end of 2017! It's all a bit mind-blowing and I reflect on the 50-year Heathrow debate back home.

Two keynote civic occasions are held over lunch and dinner - one with the City and one with the Province.

Each follows the same pattern, a formal set-piece exchange of diplomatic pleasantries, followed by a banquet where guests are furnished with a melange of tasters. The fun is trying to figure out what you are actually eating. I ponder over a "steamed weever".

The formalities go well. Hefei is led by the Mayor and Anhui by the Governor, both supported by massive senior teams. The City is led by Ranjit Banwait and County by Anne Western. Ranjit scores a blinder when he quotes Confucius - I can see this gets approval from our hosts. An agreement is signed, everyone claps and a hundred photos taken.

Whilst feeling staid to our western sensibilities, the ceremony and its subtle messaging is central to Chinese business. The relationship comes first and we know this is a step we cannot skip.

The day ends on a high, it seems we have been promoted and can now build our ambitions from a new, higher, platform for cooperation.

Now, the hard work starts...but first we retire after a 14 hour day to renew our individual insomnia battles...



Wednesday, 2nd November – Shanghai Surprises 

Today has been a day of eye-openers, seeing China at its brilliant best and at its most frustrating.

Essentially it is transfer day, as following yesterday's ceremonies with Hefei & Anhui, the D2 delegation split up for various tailored meetings before heading off to join up with other Midland cities in Shanghai. 

Tomorrow the Midlands Engine takes centre stage at a major investment conference, the first attempt at putting forward a joined-up message to investors. 

Taking the bullet train for the 300-mile trip from Hefei to Shanghai was nothing short of an astonishing experience. Over the past few years China has introduced an extensive High Speed rail system serviced by sleek white modern trains that purr into massive designer stations, more akin to airports.

The distance we travelled is roughly that of Derby to Edinburgh, but the similarity ends there. Whilst the UK service can deliver you in 4 hours and 30 mins, China Rail knocks it off in less than 3 hours. The speedometer in each carriage showed 320 km per hour as being our top speed.

On Friday I’ll be catching the Maglev to Shanghai, travelling at 400km/h. To put this in perspective, if the train between Derby and London travelled at this speed, it would take 25 minutes.

The downside of rapid growth is that almost of all the 300-mile journey between Hefei and Shanghai was built-up, mile upon mile of apartment blocks and hundreds of cranes still building with little consideration for design. 

Ironically, although Shanghai parades itself as a city of innovation, it also brings with it a sharp reminder of the fact that we are in a one party state with desire for control. This leads to Google, Twitter, Facebook and Gmail all being blocked. 

Having said that one cannot be but impressed by the city’s stunning skyline with skyscrapers, illuminated by neon.

Thursday, 3rd November – Midlands Message

Today over 500 people packed into a large conference room in the Pudong area of Shanghai, which can best be compared to Canary Wharf. 

Organised by the China-Britain Business Council, the theme of the day is the opportunities available for investment, in other words Chinese investors considering the UK. The Midlands Engine is a key sponsor and the day provides an opportunity to catch up with colleagues from Birmingham, Nottingham and Wolverhampton, amongst others.

The main morning session is focused on the Midlands Engine and Patrick Horgan, Regional Director North-East Asia for Rolls-Royce, gives an excellent endorsement as to why investors should look at the Midlands, and in particular, Derby.

I’m especially pleased when he says that Rolls-Royce is defined by Derby, which itself was a cradle for the industrial revolution.

The conference provides a genuine attempt from the Midlands to show how we can collaborate for the greater good, remembering that the Northern Powerhouse made its move on China over a year ago. 

It’s too early to judge the success of this initiative but I believe that Midlands made a strong pitch to an important group, who will spread the word over the coming months.

The Derby City Centre Masterplan and Infinity Park Derby both feature in a mandarin version of the Midlands pitch book. 

The day ended with a reception hosted by the British Consul in his downtown apartment. This gave delegates an opportunity to experience the Shanghai rush hour as it took 2 hours for the bus to travel a mere 5 miles. I’ll probably be more tolerant of my daily “traffic jam” on Burton road in the future…



Friday, 4th November – Lessons Learnt

This is my final blog as I depart China for the long trip back home.

Sitting in the shiny new Shanghai Pudong airport I reflect on five key points from the week.

1) China – The country is home to 1.5 billion people and is becoming the world’s largest economy and the world’s largest investor. 
In other words, this is a place with whom we have to do business, and following the visit of President Xi to the UK last year, the Chinese have referred to their relations with Britain as the “Golden Era”.

2) UK – Yes, we are a small country in comparison and yes, post-Brexit we will need to attract more trade and investment to at least make up whatever we lose from the EU.

Talking to Chinese investors and officials there is a concern about the uncertainty over the UK’s economy during this period of transition, expressed by one as “we like to see the UK as a key to the EU.” However, I picked up a genuine desire to do business with Britain based on our heritage, education system, security and legal framework.  

3) Hefei and Anhui – Although both city and province are larger than Derby and Derbyshire the simple fact is that we did meet the top brass, i.e. the mayor of Hefei and the governor of Anhui. Hefei is one of the world’s top 20 growing cities and although they, and we, may be seen as being late to the table, it could prove we are at the right place at the right time.

4) Derby and Derbyshire – We sent a strong team and put our best foot forward and in truth if the feedback from our Chinese hosts is anything to go by, we played a blinder. Be under no illusion, to have the leadership of the city council, county council, the university and business bodies all give up their valuable time to travel half-way across the world gets noticed, and is appreciated in China. Our challenge now is to move towards delivery and we are actively considering moving an economic ambassador in China to make this happen.

5) Midlands Engine – My feeling is that collaboration on a trans-regional level makes perfect sense, especially on larger strategic platforms, such as the China-Britain Business Council Outbound Conference. We know that we are here to promote our own areas, but we are mature enough to understand that the common good is the best way of achieving this. We will soon be going as one team to MIPIM in Cannes, which is a complete reversal to previous years. It was disappointing that the Secretary of State did not make the visit and we will be seeking evidence that the Government is serious in backing an initiative that makes sense to local government and businesses. 

Boarding has been called so time to sign off…

Derby's Partnership Approach

I find it useful to step back occasionally and reflect on the progress of Derby’s regeneration journey.

When I do, I’m generally astonished by the support that we have been able to tap into when promoting the city to investors on that journey.

This month has been as good as any in the progress that we are making as a city.

Last week, we held one of our events which we generally badge as a Derby Embassy. On this occasion it was a private investor reception held at the prestigious Ritz Hotel in the heart of London’s West End.

In attendance, were London-based investors who have choices as where to put their money and our job was to build their confidence in the Derby proposition. 

We now have a very strong Team Derby ethos and the Marketing Derby message was ably supported by our key ambassadors at the reception from both public and private sectors.

In many ways, the event started in the first class lounge on platform 6 at Derby Station where our Bondholder, East Midlands Trains, kindly hosted delegates ready to set off on what we sometimes call the ‘Bondholder Express’.

We chose the Ritz, partly due to its heritage and partly due to its location, right on the doorstep of most of our investor targets. Locations such as this are key to our Embassy proposition as it attracts interest and reduces no-shows.

Delegates heard from the Deputy Leader of Derby City Council, Martin Rawson, on how the new city centre Masterplan is central to the regeneration of Derby as well as reiterating Council support for Marketing Derby. 

Keynote speaker was Paul Harris, the Director of Economic Development at Rolls-Royce, who gave a stunning account of the company’s local, national and global footprints as well as reiterating the support Rolls-Royce has for the city’s development.

A company employing over 14,000 well-paid talented people was a message not lost on the investors in the room.

Later in the week, Marketing Derby hosted a stand at MIPIM UK, an offshoot of the larger property show held in Cannes each March. There, we held a Derby Showcase Question and Answer session on the emerging collaboration between Derby and Nottingham.

Membership of the panel included Martin Rawson, Deputy Leader of Derby City Council as well as Jon Collins, Leader of Nottingham City Council and Head of External Affairs at East Midlands Airport, Jack Kelly.

Of course, there are times when Nottingham and Derby compete but, more often than not, we are incredibly collaborative, especially on an international platform, where the synergy of the two cities make for a stronger offer.

A perfect example of our ability to compete and co-operate is next week’s Trade and Investment Mission to China.

This will see cities such as Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton visit their twin cities across China, as well as coming together in Shanghai, under the badge of the Midlands Engine.

In the case of Derby, our Chinese partner city is Hefei and the county is linked with the surrounding Province of Anhui. 

These links are encouraged and support by both UK and Chinese governments and Derby’s connections were accelerated by a successful visit made by Derby City Council Leader and Chief Executive, Ranjit Banwait and Paul Robinson, earlier this year.

The team visiting China is strong and includes not only the City and County Council but also representatives from the Derby Renaissance Board, University of Derby, East Midlands Chamber and, of course, Marketing Derby. 

We will be holding an Embassy event in Hefei which is being supported by companies such as Train FX (based in Derby with Chinese ownership) and, of course, Rolls-Royce, who have a significant presence and customer base in China.

It’s interesting to see how quickly the cities in the Midlands have cooperated in targeting Chinese investors, and it’s absolutely essential that Derby is seen to be a part of this.

The potential for such activity today is often prefaced by the phrase ‘post-Brexit’ but it’s my opinion, Brexit or no Brexit, the UK has to continue to deepen economic ties with what has become the world’s powerhouse.

This could be game-changing, but it is patient play. The Chinese value relationships and symbols, and this visit is an essential component of that.

Cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield have started to reap the rewards of their time invested in such relationships and we are hopeful that Derby will be soon joining that club bringing jobs and investment to help develop our city.


Time to support St Peters Quarter... before it's too late

I thought it was a real shame that the St Peter’s Quarter Business Improvement District recently failed to win the vote for its extension.

The BID is now wound up and all its activities ceased.

To make things worse, the loss was by one vote – in other words, if only one more business had voted positively, then the BID would have been renewed.

The BID concept is simple – businesses in a defined area can vote to pay a small precept on their rates and the money collected is used, by those businesses, to improve the area.

The idea started in the United States where the focus of BIDs has been very much on regenerating the many downtown areas that had been abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s.

A few weeks ago, I was in Denver and saw for myself the fantastic work undertaken to bring life back to the 16th Street area, once a dive, now a vibrant hub. After years of decline, downtown Denver is undergoing a remarkable renaissance. 

BIDs crossed the pond and London’s West End was one of the first to test the model in a UK environment.

In Derby, the Cathedral Quarter BID was launched about the same time as the Westfield opening. The idea was to ensure that Derby’s historic core could adapt to a new post-Westfield/crash/e-commerce world. 

The Cathedral Quarter BID is considered a great success and, to date, has had no trouble in winning its renewal votes. Infact, it recently won UK BID of the year at the Association of Town Centre Managers. 

The area is attractive and bustling, peppered with fantastic independent and branded businesses, which is why the likes of Doc Martins, Joules and Jack Wills have all moved decided to move there this year. 

St Peter’s is another story.

Covering the geographical heart of the city, the area sits between the booming intu Derby shopping centre and revitalised Cathedral Quarter.

St Peter’s is different and was always going to be a challenge. 

Its boundaries include disparate zones that bear little relation to each other. It’s a long way from Riverlights to Becket Street, via Babington Lane. 

The BID was always going to struggle to create bespoke responses to the various challenges, both within its area and on its borders.

At its core, is the St Peter’s Street/East Street axis – one that bears all the hallmarks of the existential crisis facing the traditional British High Street. 

This includes many absentee landlords (often anonymous funds or banks holding in administration), mainstream brands in decline and fall (think Woolworths to BHS) and temporary lettings that might fill a space, but, over time, drag a street down.

In truth, if we are being honest, today the area can have an edgy air. 

On our walkabouts with investors we regularly witness, at best, low level anti-social behaviour riddled with ‘industrial’ language or, at worst, in broad daylight, criminal activity, including drug dealing and consumption.

Only last week, we held a meeting in the heart of the area, on a potential investment and the atmosphere was chaotic to such an extent that a homeless person, sitting in a doorway, shouted at a both a Big Issue seller and a guy ranting about salvation, pleading for some peace and quiet.

At that moment, I realised something radical needs to be done. People are beginning to avoid the area and its decline is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I read that one business voted against the BID because the BID did not directly benefit that business.  

There is such a thing as the common good and whilst the investment made by individual concerns is quite small, put together in one pot, the resource can achieve much.

Since we moved into the city centre, Marketing Derby pays into the Cathedral Quarter BID, £5 a week - more than the business quoted above - and it’s one of the best investments we make, even if we do not benefit directly as a company.

However, I’m not pinning all the hopes and fears of the St Peter’s area on the BID.

The area is central to the City Centre Masterplan and as a result the City Council is investing significant sums into public realm and will soon be taking opportunities like Riverlights 2 and Becket Well to market. This will help.

We are working with London-based investors such as the Moorfield Group, Steamrock Capital and Re-define who are all seeking to improve their holdings.

I hear there may be a second bite at a BID renewal vote in 2017 and I believe the slim margin of defeat this year gives this legitimacy.

Meanwhile, BID or no BID, it’s time for a concerted multi-agency approach to stopping the anti-social elements from ruining our city and costing hundreds of jobs. Safety and security needs to be top of that agenda, implementing a plan that knits zero tolerance with wider regeneration measures to build confidence.

There are some really fantastic businesses located in St Peter’s and we need to create partnership activities to help them succeed. 

The times are a-changing' in our city... at least Mary from Glasgow appreciates it

The past month has been the traditional silly season, that time of year when news-starved media covers off the strangest of stories. 

Some of this year’s oddities were gifted by Viscountess Lady Scarsdale, who said she wanted a machine gun to kill badgers at the Kedleston estate, a story covered with some glee in the nationals.

She also claimed Derby was ‘soulless’ and so shopped at Fosse Park near Leicester. This, she said, had the added bonus of saving money, as the parking is free, as opposed to intu Derby, which charges. 

Fosse Park, (with 30 stores compared to intu’s 200), may have become an incredibly vibrant retail experience since I was last there, and the Viscountess may own a car that doesn’t use any fuel, but I take exception to her description of Derby.

However, the Lady was not alone. 

An ex-Derby County player, Mick Jones, joined in, claiming the city was now a ‘refuse tip’. 

Despite being a lifelong season ticket holder, I couldn’t remember Mick, so I Googled him and found that he had played the same numbers of games for Derby as I had, none.

We live in a free country and all are entitled to opinions.

I sense that we could all fall into a similar trap, when comparing any place special to us 40 years ago, to how it is in 2016.

Nostalgia clouds memory and we suffer disappointment in seeing how time washes away places we loved.

The Viscountess and the footballer reveal this in their own way – one missing a ‘Tavern’ on Irongate (‘which was very nice’), the other the Kardoma Café (where the ‘pretty girls in Derby amassed’).

I miss a chip shop in Normanton, which was located in someone’s front room (true), and the nearby Mafeking, where I had my first drink.

But, hey, times change and so do cities, in fact, so must cities. 

I often describe Derby as a city on a journey, and whilst that’s true of all places, it’s particularly true of Derby.

For whatever reason, during the 80s, 90s and early 00s, the city failed to attract enough investment and was falling behind. We are still on catch-up.

The platform for any place is the health of its economy and Derby’s is vibrant, having grown by 23% in the past 5 years, making it number one in the UK.

Growth in the city’s tax base marks it as 7th in the UK, the only English city outside of the south-east in the top ten.

I don’t make this stuff up – they are facts, plain and simple - and anyone who applies a few minutes of thought will understand why Derby performs this way.

Over the summer, Rolls-Royce won another £3billion of deals and Bombardier a further £1billion.

Complementing these mega-companies are hundreds of SMEs, working hard to grow their business.

Look at the performance of EPM Technology in Formula One, or Huub at the Rio Olympics, or Royal Crown Derby’s renaissance or SureScreen’s sheer innovation.

The Derby area is awash with entrepreneurial companies and they need the city to be attractive if they are to recruit and retain a talented workforce.

Since the first masterplan in 2015 over £3billion has been invested and progress made in schemes ranging from Westfield/intu to the Quad, Roundhouse, hotels, cinemas, city living, pubs and restaurants.

Our strategy is to improve Derby so we can retain more of the wealth we create.

And, guess what, it’s working - something like £130m additional spend is being made in the city each year, supporting thousands of jobs.

But, as with any city, we are a work in progress. 

It’s easy to spot the distressed areas in need of investment and regeneration, the important question is, what are we doing?

Derby City Council sometimes take a lot of flak but at least they have had the chutzpah to identify these areas and include them as priorities in the updated masterplan, launched this year.

The government hasn’t asked them to do this – they’ve done it off their own back when it would have been easier to hide.

Top of their list is a new performance venue for the Assembly Rooms site, a game-changer for the city, and sorting out the Becketwell area.

Regeneration is not about quick fixes and the time it takes can frustrate us all.

However, the Council has hired the world’s number one real estate company, Cushman and Wakefield, as their advisor. 

They are serious about doing something and are currently assembling land in Becketwell. This autumn the Council will be taking this and other opportunities to the market. We will then be able to asses investor appetite. 

Yeah, I want to wave a magic wand and make it all happen overnight but, it is important to be realistic about any city, its good and bad points.

Key is moving on from moaning to doing. 

The least we can all do is tell the world about our incredible strengths – remember nobody likes a whinger who doesn’t offer solutions.

Last week, the City Council revealed their public realm installation at the Spot and it took a visitor, Mary from Glasgow, to praise our city in a quote to the Telegraph:

“I’ve been to Derby about 6 times over the years and a lot has changed. The shopping centre is beautiful and it will look really nice outside it.” 

Thanks Mary, you can come back anytime.

This week, John Forkin, MD of Marketing Derby imagines what he would write to the new Prime Minister…

Dear Prime Minister,

First may I offer my congratulations on your appointment?

It was important to put a quick end to the political uncertainty that followed the EU Referendum and, there is no doubt that having a new government in situ has helped settle nerves. 

You have certainly hit the ground running, re-shaping the structure of government and reaching out to key partners in Edinburgh, Berlin and Paris.

I suspect it won’t be too long before you make your first visit to Derby as Prime Minister and, let me extend an invitation for you to do so.

You will find a city with 300 years of innovation in our DNA, home to the world’s first factory (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and today a vibrant centre for 21st Century technology and enterprise. 

You will already know our big name employers: we are a proud HQ to Rolls-Royce’s Corporate, Civil Aerospace and Nuclear operations; home to the world’s largest car maker, Toyota and leading train manufacturer, Bombardier

We sometimes cluster these, and their talented supply chains, together as ‘Trains, Planes and Automobiles’.

As important as these are, Derby is so much more, 6,000 businesses - sole traders and SMEs - working hard to contribute to UK plc. 

In fact, the Centre for Cities has just produced a report that shows Derby as having the UK's fastest-rising tax base outside London, alongside Aberdeen. 

This makes us one of the key drivers of the UK economy, generating £17,397 taxes per job, 7th best in the UK. You could say that we more than pay our way.

Prime Minister, you need more cities like Derby.

Prime Minister, you need more cities like Derby.

The purpose of Marketing Derby is to attract inward investment, so creating employment for local people. 

We are a small, dedicated team, funded by our City Council and 300 business Bondholders - to be clear, that’s businesses putting their money into helping to improve their city. 

Having just celebrated our 10th anniversary, we are proud to have attracted 3,650 jobs - one job for each day of our existence.

Having just celebrated our 10th anniversary, we are proud to have attracted 3,650 jobs - one job for each day of our existence.

This includes hi-tech companies, foreign-owned companies, retailers, leisure providers, developers, call centres – even a deep sea oil and gas company (I know, Derby is far from the coast, but we are Grand Central when it comes to engineers…). 

Our business model is unique and when you visit Derby you will experience a partnership ethos where civic and business leaders work in common purpose for the greater good.

Our business model is unique and when you visit Derby you will experience a partnership ethos where civic and business leaders work in common purpose for the greater good. 

A perfect example of this is Infinity Park Derby, a 100-acre employment site and Enterprise Zone being opened by your Party Chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, tomorrow.

Patrick will get to drive down a new link road, Infinity Park Way, funded via the D2N2 LEP and Regional Growth Funding, in an historic Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. 

If you ask Patrick about his experience I’m sure he will say how Infinity Park, as a joint venture between Derby City Council, Rolls-Royce, developers Cedar House and others, illustrates perfectly how government intervention works to release enterprise. 

Its first building is ready to open – a stunning Innovation Centre involving the Universities of Derby and Aston – and we hope to eventually attract up to 8,000 jobs.

I know your In-Tray must be huge but wanted to remind you that, beyond the shock and awe of post-Brexit headlines and challenges, there are hard-working cities, like Derby, with the capabilities and capacity to get on with the job. 

We just need the right messages, nudges and support from your Government.

Which brings me onto the asks (you knew this was coming) of which I have three:

  1. Devolution. Help us to help you address the fractures exposed by the Brexit vote – please find ways to devolve powers and investment from SW1 and into the cities and regions. Encourage the public-private partnerships within our cities, collaborations between neighbours and across the Midlands. Avoid the (Treasury) itch to micro-manage and over-bureaucratise, trust us to deliver. Believe me, in Derby we have the talent to develop nuclear power and aero-engines that fly millions across the world – we can handle some responsibility. 
  2. Rebalance. Make your industrial strategy real. You know how symbolic it was to even include the phrase in the title of a ministry and I congratulate you for that, but BEIS must become a platform not a ghetto. The London Challenge delivered structural change in the quality of schooling in the capital. A Midlands (and Northern) Challenge is as much a part of industrial plan as infrastructure and sector support. Greg Clarke must be given licence to knit together government interventions that create genuine synergies that really make a long-term impact.
  3. Internationalism. The referendum vote was an unexpected shock globally and many have interpreted the decision as a desire by the UK to want to stop the world and get off. We must nip this in the bud. Government can lead the way by using the summer and autumn to travel the world, assuring others that the UK is open for business. You could be encouraging (and incentivising) business and civic leaders to be doing the same. Whatever the outcome of post-Article 50 negotiations, we are going to have to significantly increase our international business trade and investment activity and we need to start now.

Thank you for your time Prime Minister and we look forward to your visit to the UK’s Capital for Innovation soon.


Dust off those posters that say "Keep Calm and Carry On"

Last Wednesday, we closed the Derby Property Summit with the classic Clash track, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’? 

Twenty-four hours later, the country decided to go, voting by a narrow margin to leave the EU.

Historians are already debating the importance of this event, comparing it to the Suez Crisis of 1956, right back to Henry VIII’s 16th century tussles with Europe.  

Events are changing quickly but, as I write, there is a still a sense of disbelief (on all sides) tempered by growing recognition that actions have consequences.

I asked a couple who had voted to leave if they could give me the correct name of the country they had voted to leave the EU - United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – but they were totally unable to do so.

I only say this to illustrate a point that I made in this column in March, that the referendum decision would be based largely on emotion, as opposed to cold logic. 

People may clamor for facts but, in the end, the vote was a simple act of faith. 

We are where we are – and that is in unchartered territory, which we now need to navigate carefully (with a new captain due in the autumn) for the good of our economy and communities, as well as bearing some responsibility towards our European and global partners. 

Since the vote, I’ve been asked repeatedly to comment on the impact of Brexit on inward investment.

Truth is, there is no simple answer. 

I’d like to put aside the (hopefully) short-term fluctuations in stocks and in Sterling, as uncertainty will always fuel speculation. No doubt someone made a nice packet last Thursday night. 

The crucial question is how do we prevent the current turbulence, or inertia, from becoming a medium - or even long-term, event?

Of course we have been here before. 

In 2008, the collapse of Lehman Brothers led to catastrophic events and a consequent recession. 

If you remember, the debate then was very much questioning what ‘shape’ the recession would take – ‘V-shape’ for quick recovery and ‘U-shape’ for a longer flat recovery.

In truth, we’re not long recovered and the trick now will be to avoid a blip becoming a dip and then that morphing into a full-blown recession. 

Be under no illusion a recession would be a disaster for Derby, as the city has only recently started to be seen as a viable inward investment prospect, attracting £3bn over the last decade.

My early conversation with investors is mainly one of them being taken by surprise and not wanting to say too much until the confusion clears. However, none seem to be pretending it’s business as usual. 

The 10% collapse of a currency, $2trillion global shock in shares, resignation of a Prime Minister and potential unraveling of the UK and EU did not a normal Friday make.

At the Derby Property Summit our keynote speaker, Courtney Fingar, Editor-in-Chief of the Financial Times fDi magazine, outlined the risks of Brexit on international investment flows.

Her figures showed that the UK is a leader in this field, second only to the US, but that 60% of that investment is related to the UK being part of the single market. To retain this position the negotiated trade deal must maintain this access.

Locally, Bombardier, Rolls-Royce and Toyota have all issued very welcome and calming statements, hoping to help avoid turning a drama into a crisis. 

Derby’s economy does trade globally so it is absolutely critical that effective trade deals with the EU and beyond are negotiated in good time and not just for the benefit of the big corporates, but also for the many SMEs in their direct and indirect supply chains.  

The UK has decided to leave the EU and, as the East Midlands Chamber has said, government must now articulate its vision and define a credible roadmap for success outside the EU. 

The country is split down the middle, the referendum is clear on what we are leaving, but not where we are going, and it may take a General Election to define this.  

However, the longer the hiatus, the greater the hurt. 

Finally, a major investment concern is the signal, now perceived by many internationally, that the UK has become an inward-looking and introspective small-island nation. We cannot become the Millwall (no-one likes us, we don’t care) of nations. There is no future in the globalised 21st century in a country closed for business. 

Government and business need to be reaching out pro-actively, getting on planes to reassure customers and markets that a Brexit Britain remains a liberal, open, tolerant democracy, welcoming talent (immigrants) and investment from across the world. 

Back in 2008, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motif from the World War became popular on posters, tea-towels and mugs.

It’s time to dust them off and capture that spirit. 












Why our city has to start thinking much smarter

For the first time in history, more people now live in cities than in the countryside. 

This has been the case for some time in Europe, but economic growth, especially in Asia, India and Latin America, has finally tipped the balance. We are now a planet of city-dwellers, in fact many live in mega-cities of 20 million people and more, and so we need to adapt to the challenges this brings.

One response is the emergence of Smart Cities.

Anyone interested in city development and urban regeneration will be aware of this new movement, or at least the phrase, if not its exact meaning.

It is a new genre, still very much the subject of early adopters, think-tanks and policy papers, but it is increasingly becoming mainstreamed.

A Smart City is concerned with issues such as livability and resilience, and encourages iterative engagement with its citizens in shaping services. Smart Cities use big data, digital technology and new collaborations in a concerted shift towards making the city more customer-driven.

The concept has been described as being ‘more of a process than a product’ but it is attracting the attention of governments and even corporations, such as Siemens, Arup and Huawei, who obviously sense future income generating opportunities. 

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has even issued a background paper and Glasgow has been awarded £24m as a demonstrator city.

Last month, Bristol was given the accolade as the UK’s smartest city, whilst neighbouring Nottingham was placed in the top ten (due to its transport innovations). 

All this begs the question – if your city is not smart, then is it dumb, and where does Derby sit?

My starting point is the simple fact that cities compete for business, talent and customers - being smart may soon become an expectation.

At Marketing Derby we are on that particular frontline every day – each potential investor we host has a choice, to invest in Derby or to go elsewhere.

We are delighted to have been involved in attracting premium brands into the city such as White Stuff, Yo! Sushi and Cosy Club. They bring employment, business rates and help the city retain more of its wealth. 

Businesses in growth such as Knights Professional Services, Altran and Florida Turbine Technologies all had a choice for their next location and all chose Derby.

And don’t assume the location options are always regional, or even national. A recent contact centre enquiry we dealt with was actively comparing Derby and South Africa – proof positive of the global nature of business today.

New concepts invariably come dressed up in the finery of new language, which frankly can be difficult to interpret. 

In trying to sort the wheat from the chaff, I think the Smart City concept boils down to three key areas - the economy, infrastructure and collaboration. My self-assessment against these criteria, in that order, would be pass, fail and in development. 

On the first indicator we achieve a clear pass, there is no doubt that Derby hosts a smart economy. 

With 12% of the city’s workforce employed in hi-tech functions and the highest salaries outside of London being central to this, as well as the presence of talent thirsty tech companies in aerospace, rail, composites and nuclear, we are right at the top of this particular tree. 

Being the world HQ for Rolls-Royce helps, but so do the hundreds of SMEs in the sectors listed above. Most cities would gladly swap places with Derby on this factor alone and it provides us with a great platform on which to build.

The picture on infrastructure is not so rosy, and on this I have to reluctantly mark Derby today as a fail. 

A Smart City uses technology to drive urban systems in transport, healthcare, energy and the like. Sadly, we are barely at the starting block, as the blank electronic car parking indicators sited around city gateways stand testament.  

Glasgow has developed apps pulling together city data such as traffic, pollen count and even fuel prices. In Barcelona, waste disposal is electronically planned in new neighbourhoods with collections triggered by demand not timetable. In London, public transport information is given in real time enabling passengers to make modal decisions that make life easier.

I can’t help but think that we have the skills in Derby to make this happen – think of all the tech companies based here for a start – but we are yet to define a clear ambition which is needed before we pull the talent together.

Which brings me neatly to my third measure, that of collaboration, where I score the city as ‘in development’. 

Derby can teach many places about developing excellent public-private partnerships. We’ve been doing this since the attraction of Toyota and development of Pride Park in the 1990s. Marketing Derby itself is a manifestation of the city’s partnership ethos.

To move towards a pass on this, I feel we need to further enhance collaboration across the city, between business, academia and the public sector. This will involve a shift from silos, to more engaged and transparent service design and delivery. 

This is not an easy thing to define and there is a change in culture and behaviour required, possibly even a change in personnel. 

For the past 300 years, Derby has had a strong claim as a centre for innovation. From the world’s first factory in the eighteenth century, to rail technology and aerospace in the nineteenth and twentieth, Derby has always been there or thereabouts.

If Derby is to build on its capital for innovation moniker into the twenty-first century, then defining, designing and delivering our future as a Smart City may well be key. 

Time to start the thinking.


Business must break down the wall

From Jericho to Berlin, Belfast to Israel, the construction and destruction of walls has always carried heavy political symbolism.

The recent spat between Donald Trump and the Pope, on the subject of the proposed wall to separate Mexico and the United States, illustrates this perfectly. 

It’s not every day that religious and political leaders lock horns on the right and wrongs of construction projects, but then we seem to be living in strange times.

I only say this as earlier this month I attended a ceremony held at the Houses of Parliament, a ceremony where a wall was built, right at the foot of Big Ben.

Hosted by Derby North MP Amanda Solloway, and attended by the likes of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis, this was a pretty major event that made for a superb photo opportunity.

In this case, the symbolism of the wall was to bring attention to the skills shortage in construction, and most particularly the art of bricklaying.

The event had a real Derbyshire feel and it was great to see another local-born innovation play out at the heart of our democracy.

Its main instigator was the effervescent Ian Hodgkinson, owner of Hodgkinson Builders who, having created a successful Brickwork Academy with Derby College, was using the occasion to announce its expansion into a National Construction Academy.  

Delivered in partnership with the dynamic Derby-based training provider 3aaa, the National Construction Academy will be rolled out across the UK and aims to attract and train greater numbers of young people into this skilled, and very well paid, employment. 

Ian literally wears his passion on his sleeve – replete in his famous ‘brick suit’, his message is simple and serious, there is a shortage of talent to build the UK.

My take-out was his comment that the annual target to build 250,000 houses in the UK is unachievable as there are only 250,000 bricklayers.  

The UK seems to go around in circles when it comes to education and skill shortages.

Government after government love setting targets and launching initiatives, they are brilliant at talking the talk, but rarely walk the walk.

By all accounts, we are not only short of bricklayers but also doctors, engineers, teachers, care workers and a myriad of roles and professions.

As a country we spend a fortune on education and training, yet we still face the disconnect between supply and demand in the labour market.

I don’t want to depress you, but the challenge does seem to be pretty fundamental.

In educational terms the UK has slipped down the OECD tables, where we now stand 20th out of 24 for Maths and Science. Astonishingly, we rank 22nd out of 24 for English.

Only half of our school leavers achieve 5 GCSEs including Maths and English, that’s after 11 years of full-time education.

The world of business has a stark choice – to stand back and criticise the whole shooting match or get involved and support change.

In Derby, increasing numbers are choosing to get involved - from Ian and his Academies to the hundreds who sit as governors, act as mentors or provide valuable work experience.

All staff at Marketing Derby have committed to volunteering time to support Enterprise for Education (E4E), the activity co-ordinated by Derby City Council and delivered by business. 

E4E provides CV workshops, mentoring and mock interviews within schools and I recently did my first mock interview stint at Murray Park. 

I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the students but also witnessed first hand the need to help identify their talent beyond academic grades and to open their horizons to opportunities – raising aspiration and challenging comfort zones.

Just as the Hodgkinson wall was demolished at the end of the Parliament event, so must the wall between business and education, and it’s time for business to get involved.





How the EU Referendum Heralds an age of Uncertainity for Investment

I must confess that I’m a little wary about wandering into the turf marked ‘EU Referendum’ but wander, and wonder, I will.

It’s my long-held view that all investment decisions are a cocktail of the rational and emotional, and I suspect considerations about how to vote on June 23rd will be no different.

Yes, the business case must make sense, but who ever really believes the neat numbers laid out in glossy business plans? 

Truth is, in every business proposition there are always risk factors, the ‘known unknowns’, as well as those pesky ‘unknown unknowns’, and essentially, this is the territory inhabited by the case for, and against, Brexit.

The recent BBC ‘Europe: Them or Us’? TV programme was an excellent reminder of the continually fraught relationship between Britain and our continental neighbours, of how positions for and against a closer relationship continually transcend traditional political fault-lines.

Winston Churchill and Tony Blair supported greater integration, whilst Tony Benn and Enoch Powell were vehemently against.

Since the end of the Second World War the European question has created endless angst, leading to new alliances, with those at the extreme of either end holding their belief as an almost quasi-religious act of faith. 

As I write this article, Barack Obama has flown into London with an appeal for us to stay in the club. Bodies, ranging from the IMF and World Bank, to our own Bank of England, appear to be saying the same. 

However, some might say is not one of the lessons of the past decade the amazing ability of these august bodies to get the big issues wrong? I don’t remember any of them calling out the economic crash of 2008.

Amazingly, weirdly even, both sides have now started to predict how famous dead people would have voted. 

Marketing Derby is charged with attracting investment into the city and so the question I have to ask is; what will be the impact of staying or leaving the EU on inward investment?

If there is one thing I’ve learnt in the past 10 years, it’s that investors do not like uncertainty…in fact, they fear it.

Uncertainty stains those shiny business plans and, as a consequence, masterly inactivity becomes the strategy of choice.

We saw this phenomenon last year in the build up to the General Election. 

During the spring of 2015, all the talk was of a hung Parliament, with a predicted political fog shrouding Big Ben whilst government portfolios were negotiated in secret. In other words, uncertainty.

Then, the surprise result delivered a clear win for one party, the fog lifted and the world carried on with investments previously on hold, being released.

The EU referendum is having a similar effect.

Cushman and Wakefield has reported a drop of 31.8% in year-on-year deal volume for the first quarter of 2016 as uncertainty over Brexit takes hold. 

Whilst to some this might be explained by a drop in global growth (the IMF has revised its prediction down from 3.4% to 3.2%), Cushmans still expect a further decline in the second quarter. 

Put simply, this is the price of uncertainty and until a decision is known, either way, investment will stall. 

The Billion Dollar question is what will happen on Friday 24th June?

If the UK has voted to stay, most commentators expect a repeat of 2015, with investments released. Cushmans predicts a rapid catch up in the second half of the year.

A vote to leave will be different with uncertainty extended, at least in the short term, whilst timetables for the terms of exit are negotiated. 

In terms of inward investment, the situation could be quite uncertain.  

The Editor in Chief of the Financial Times fDi Magazine, Courtney Fingar, gave an interesting presentation at our Derby Embassy event at MIPIM in March.

She showed that international investment flows have been growing consistently for nearly two decades and how the UK performs very well. In fact, we are second only to the USA in terms of destination of investment.

In real terms US$83billion was attracted into the UK from emerging markets. 

The interesting fact is that 58% of those projects came to the UK in order to access the European ‘regional’ market, 32% accessing the UK ‘domestic’ market and 5% accessing the ‘global’ market. 

The best way to understand this in local terms is that Toyota fits the regional category, Webhelp the domestic and Bombardier the global.

So, it’s the 58% at risk but we simply do not know how much of that would be lost, or whether it would be replaced.

People ask for the facts, but facts will not tell us how to vote. 

In the end, it’s an emotional call to be made alone in the ballot box. 

Exciting leads for our city and it's all down to doing our MIPIM homework

This week, let’s talk MIPIM.

MIPIM is branded as the world’s leading property exhibition and is held each March in Cannes, France. I’ll come back to the ‘Cannes factor’ a little later.

The show is organised by the world’s largest events organiser, Reed Exhibitions. Any business that has attended a trade show, seeking customers or suppliers, will most likely have been a customer of Reed.

Today, Reed is holding the World Travel Show in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the China Laboratory and Technical show in Guangzhou, China.

In many respects, Reed personifies the inevitably global nature of doing business today – the need to go out and seek customers. They simply provide the platform for doing so.

MIPIM is a mammoth show and, in truth, it’s hard to grasp its sheer scale without visiting.

It attracts 21,000 participants to its 2,000,000 square feet of exhibition space (to help comparison, there are 1,000,000 square feet of offices on Pride Park). Additionally, there are over 100 official conferences and thousands of unofficial promotional and networking events.

The role of Marketing Derby is to raise the city’s profile in order to attract investment. MIPIM provides the largest single gathering of investors on the planet – so, for us attendance is pretty much a no-brainer.

Our customers are there, our competitors are there, so we must be there too.

Each year, we take out a strong public-private sector team to represent all that’s best about Derby. This always includes representation from Derby City Council as well as representatives of the city’s property professionals, willing to act as ambassadors. Over the years, our delegation has included senior players from the University of Derby, Rolls-Royce and the Derby Telegraph.

Our exhibition stand is shared with Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, funded by the D2N2 Local Economic Partnership. The expo halls are vast and so we are co-located with Leicester, Sheffield and Lincoln and not too far from Birmingham and Stoke.

On such an international stage, it’s vitally important to make the investor journey that little easier, and for 2017 we are considering combining the whole of the Midlands into a dedicated pavilion.

So, what do we do over those intensive days?

First, it’s important to understand that you don’t rock up in Cannes, wave a brochure and come back armed with a contract.

The answer is we try to get investors’ attention, fly a flag for Derby as a ‘city on the up’ that has attracted £3billion of investment over the past ten years and has exciting opportunities in the pipeline.

We do this through a mix of events, including our landmark (and packed) Derby Embassy, together with many pre-planned one-to-one meetings.

Experience has taught us that time spent upfront, using research and intelligence to identify the investors to target for those meetings, is time well spent. In truth, Derby will only be of interest to certain players from the 21,000 present – we have evolved an effective methodology for doing this.

For 2016, our focus was the Infinity Park Derby Enterprise Zone, which opens for business next month and, of course, the city centre masterplan. In particular, communicating the likely developments and timescales emanating from the Cushman and Wakefield work for Derby City Council.

It would be great to give an insight into some of the positive leads created and so, without breaking confidences and sensitivities, I can say that leads generated included a European manufacturer, investors seeking to build upscale city living apartments and early expressions of interest in some of our toughest regeneration sites.

Touching back on MIPIM’s location in Cannes each year there are the predictable jibes about sunshine (it rained this year) and glamour (tarnished a little by the 8am out/ 8pm back Nice-Cannes train commute).

I asked around other nationalities about reaction back home and this perception of being ‘a jolly’ does seem to be a peculiarly British phenomena.

The days when UK bossed it globally are long gone. If we want to win business to grow our economy then part of that is the need to jump on planes and go to where the customer is.

Thankfully, many people, from many businesses in this city, do exactly this every day.