Devolution debate gets county businesses thinking about future priorities

The Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove played host to a business-led debate on regional devolution last week (Friday 6 February). The event brought together over 70 delegates, who joined a panel of senior business leaders to discuss the ways in which the decentralisation of government powers could impact business conditions in Worcestershire.

Mary Rhodes, BBC journalist and Midlands Today presenter, chaired the event, using her extensive knowledge of the devolution discussion in the Midlands to help steer the panel through the six succinct topics that were subject to discussion.

The debate took on a multifaceted approach to the devolution question, firstly examining the potential that Worcestershire has in gaining a devolving of powers and funds into a governance structure.  The debate looked at the potential to build on the partnerships in the county and how having decisions made locally could improve skills provision, transport, infrastructure and business support – all these issues could be impacted by adopting a devolved structure.

The approach explored some of the uncertainties surrounding devolution and meant the local business community could have their say on what they see as priorities for Worcestershire moving forward. To ensure this could happen, attendees and non-attendees were invited to tweet queries and questions to #WorcsDevoDebate – the specific twitter hashtag for the event – which were then put to the panel by Mary Rhodes.

The panel, that consisted of Mike Ashton, Chief Executive of Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, Gary Woodman, Executive Director of Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, Bob Brown, Chairman of the local Institute of Directors, Judi Brazkiewicz, Branch Chair of Worcestershire Federation of Small Businesses, and Stuart Laverick, Principal and Chief Executive of Worcestershire‘s biggest apprenticeship provider, Heart of Worcestershire College, were all agreed that Worcestershire is a county of economic strength, with certain sectors leading the way on a national scale, but, in certain circumstances, must look to further supplement this by co-operation with local and regional partners.

Mike Ashton Chief Executive of Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Devolution Debate was a great way of hearing the thoughts of our members and others in the local business community regarding a highly important constitutional debate that is gathering momentum at the moment. It is important that we, not only understand our members views on the issue of devolution, but have the opportunity to listen to what they see as priorities moving forward.

Gary Woodman, Executive Director of Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “This event was a great opportunity to discuss what devolution could mean to the business environment in Worcestershire.

“The debate was constructive and fast moving and covered topics of importance to companies that could be impacted by devolution including: skills, transport and infrastructure, business support and funding. This was also a perfect opportunity for the panel to hear first-hand the priorities of the County‘s businesses for the future.“