Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce Keynote Speech

On Friday 3rd June 2011, Dan addressed the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce. Here is a transcript of his speech:

"Mr President, Madam Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you, for inviting me to address you this morning, and thank you for the work that you are doing in our region.

Pride, Entrepreneurial Spirit and a very real sense of Community characterize South Yorkshire today – South Yorkshire has grown in recent years and why? Because of you, your efforts, and your business leadership. So we face the challenges ahead prepared and with options.

I believe, this is a pivotal juncture for British business. After the recession, we are faced with challenges that could potentially see us, once again lose a generation of talent, prosperity and growth. Or alternatively, we can come together, work together, and use our common intuition and endeavour to find ways of rebranding, regenerating and rebuilding.

Business is central to my parliamentary work. It is central to my plan for regenerating Barnsley and central to increasing living standards for my constituents. It’s a measure of how important I think this work is that since becoming the MP for Barnsley Central just thirteen weeks ago today, I have become the Chair of Labour’s backbench committee on Business and accepted membership to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee. I am, therefore, well placed to keep up the pressure on the government, and to keep my finger on the pulse of latest business developments.
In my position I talk, on a daily basis, to MPs, and councillors, to businessmen and women, and people from different walks of life from across our country.

I understand that the deficit has to be cut. Of course I do. But I also understand that the growth figures of Quarters 3 and 4 of 2010 and the opening quarter of this year, do not make for promising reading. Just this week the Financial Times have forecast that the British recovery will be the slowest since 1830. So a practical approach is required, not the doctrine of denial that has been displayed by the current government.

If we are to achieve the regeneration and growth in our local economy that we desperately need then it starts with the practical issues that we face.

For a start, Barnsley’s image, nationally and indeed, regionally, is, not what it should be. We are rightly remembered for our proud history but as we move forward into the next decade, I do not want Barnsley to be known simply as the ‘ex-mining’ town but to be known as a thriving 21st Century Market town. That’s the vision of the Barnsley Development agency, and I’m grateful to its leader Carol Cooper-Smith, for the good work they are doing to help get this done.

Brand and Image is of course nothing without Growth – and there are real challenges to Growth in Barnsley. One of the challenges is Aspiration. The image of people in this area sitting back and sinking into despair after the devastation of the 1980s was never really true and by now should be well and truly buried. I think everyone here can attest to the spirit and enterprise of the people in Barnsley. But we still have to do much more to encourage aspiration – to encourage the next generation to fulfil their potential. We have to develop their expectations to be more than just getting by, because that both undervalues them – and leaves them ill-equipped to thrive in a 21-st century global economy.

Another fundamental problem is a lack of skills. I recently spoke to a major employer and asked him what the 3 most important factors to consider when re-locating or setting up a business; his reply: Skills, skills and skills. We must therefore attend to this issue in our own way, as we have done before and need to do again. There are many people working hard already to address the problem – like the staff at the Barnsley College, recognized as outstanding by Ofsted. It is one of the most glaring and irresponsible omissions of this government that they do not seem to have a credible skills strategy. Instead, we’ve seen the scrapping of the EMA, the abolition of the Barnsley-inspired Future Jobs Fund, and the trebling of university tuition fees. That is a message of neglect for our young people and one of irresponsibility for our economic future.

As part of our vision to increase aspiration, we must work with schools and colleges to equip our children and young people with the skills that they will need to become successes in your businesses. Apprenticeships provide a fantastic pathway for young people to learn new, practical skill sets. It presents an on-the-job training capability for young adults who may have been left behind in the classroom. And what is more, it is of great benefit to your business. The chance to take a willing worker and train them into a skilled professional with loyalty and dedication to your company is a huge advantage.

And another initiative I want everyone here to get behind is the ‘I Know I Can’ scheme. I Know I Can aims to raise aspirations and so enable young people to achieve everything possible at school, in their community and particularly in their future working life. The "I Know I Can" movement provides opportunities for young people to develop skills and attitudes which will ensure they are employable and enterprising and can make their way successfully into adult and working life

In the past when you left school, if you had passed your O Levels you could go to college and onto work. Or you joined the proud men working down the pits. A job for life. In more recent times maybe you went to college and then, perhaps, to university. But others face joining the Benefits queue.

I don’t believe any one truly chooses to live a life on benefits but for some a life on benefits is all they know or can see. Our message today must be clear – work is best, work if you can, benefits only if you must.

We must instil in our communities the belief that work is about more than just making ends meet. It’s about pride, it’s about self-value, and it’s about contributing to making Barnsley a better place to live and work.

We must reform our benefits system to make it easier for people to get into work. The Future Jobs Fund had a great deal of success in partnering with businesses to help people transition into jobs in a way which benefited both them and the businesses and social enterprises they worked with. It did this by providing a package of support, which included training programmes and support to businesses to create employment that would not otherwise exist. I’m convinced that the new Work Programme will not adequately replace this service, which is especially important for the long-term unemployed.

I want those people in today’s dole queue to bring their talents which they have already learned, and apply them to new training courses which will be of benefit to themselves and to your businesses. I fear that far too many of them believe that simply because they have trained in one particular skill set, they shouldn’t have to train in another. I said it during my election campaign and I’ll keep on saying it; unemployment is never a price worth paying.

So let us look to diversify our workforce in Barnsley and across the region so we create jobs that encompass all of our talents and maximize our growth potential.

We should be careful not to go back to the days before the 2008 crash – but let’s be clear, banks are still not lending enough. The Government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, has failed. It only offered small business £92m in Quarter 1 which is an 11% drop from Quarter 4 in 2010. Across the business platform, banks have fallen £2billion short of their lending commitments. More companies than ever are reporting that they do not get the support they need from lenders. I’ll keep the pressure up on Vince Cable, starting next Wednesday when he gives evidence before our select committee, to ensure he is doing all he can to allow business in Barnsley the chance to flourish.

There is an over-reliance on certain sectors which we have to break if we are to move forward. Just this week we have seen that a fifth of construction companies have failed to pay their debts in the first four months of 2011. We saw the manufacturing industry rocked through the recession. And we see virtually no one working in the property or financial sectors in Barnsley.

We need the regions business leaders, you sitting here before me, to continue to think outside of the box. There seems to be a national acceptance that going forward Britain will struggle to compete with developing nations in traditional manufacturing merchandises. So we must rebrand the industry around us and focus on promoting specialist, high-value manufacturing.

In recent years, healthcare has grown to become the biggest employment sector in Barnsley. This gives us the foundation stone we need. Pharmaceutical companies are itching to invest in Britain and where better than an area where jobs in health are rising? This is indicative of many other specialist manufacturers; Tourism, Aerospace, Low Carbon, Digital and the Creative industries are all areas we can exploit if we turn our attention to them now.

With the implementation of high speed broadband, Barnsley stands on the verge of becoming the epicentre of Britain’s digital age. This has brought success already.

We have had a winning formula with ASOS moving to the region. Why did they do that? Because we were able to give them a building fit for 21st century business, fantastic transport links to comply with their next day delivery policy and the fastest broadband in the country coming to our region. We’ve done it once, we can do it again.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight. But I am confident that working together, Barnsley can exploit these new industries because of our recognition of the practical issues we face. If we choose to be honest with ourselves now and address these issues, then these industries can look to Barnsley and Rotherham as towns which are highly investable. It we don’t, we will incur, yet another stalemate. I am confident we won’t let this happen.

I therefore intend to work closely with the local authority and the local enterprise partnership. I don’t think Enterprise Zones are the answer. I would have preferred the government to have taken the time to produce a policy with a more concentrated and targeted investment in the areas, like Barnsley, that need it the most. Having said that, I will, of course, work to ensure that we maximise the potential of these Enterprise Zones in our region.

And as we look to the future, what about the Olympic Games. If we are to truly change the aspirations of the children of tomorrow, then I want you to become the opportunists of today. Next month I am taking twenty children on a guided tour of the Olympic park. I’m not taking the best athletes or the fastest runners, I’m not even taking the biggest sports enthusiasts. I’m taking the kids interested in media studies, in photography and business studies, tourism and marketing. I’m doing it in the hope that the kids see the opportunities that exist in London and they bring them back to Barnsley. We are already leading the way with a nationwide initiative to promote the Olympic legacy through the Newham-Barnsley Partnership. So let’s make sure that when the Olympic Games move on to the streets of Brazil in 2016, the businesses, jobs and dreams of the kids on the streets of Barnsley are coming to fruition.

I believe in the people of Barnsley. I believe we have the courage to confront the practical issues which are currently holding us back; a lack of aspiration, a lack of job diversity, a lack of appropriate skill sets, and a benefit culture that has diluted the true value of the workplace. These are tough challenges but this very Chamber is testament to the entrepreneurial propensity of our region. Our innovation centre’s are amongst the most advanced anywhere across the UK. Our festivals, artists and the soon to be opened town museum, can give us the confidence we need to overcome the difficulties we face.

The time now has come for the town of Barnsley to be recognized as a twenty-first century market town. A town which fuses the very best from the past such as backbone, honesty and industrious endeavour, coupled with the brightest technologies from the future placed in the hands of a willing, well trained, well skilled and well paid workforce. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Chamber, let the next chapter in our history begin."

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