Inward investment: collaboration is key

Anita Bhalla and Kevin Harris

Collaboration is key to securing inwards investment to the Midlands region – that was the message from the head of two of the regional LEPs at our Invest Midlands online conference.

Anita Bhalla, interim chair of the GBSLEP and Kevin Harris, chair of Leicester & Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership spoke about how a more transient society has meant putting old rivalries aside in the drive to promote the Midlands, post-pandemic.

Harris said: “There are a lot of challenges out there but we have very robust structures across the Midlands. In Leicestershire we have a very resilient workforce after suffering more than most during the pandemic – but a lot of businesses have come through stronger. There is big positivity about the future in this part of the world.”

Bhalla said that things have changed where inward investment is concerned. She added: “People are now looking for different ways of working with us – they’re looking to see if we hav coping mechanisms. If we can show resilience to external investors and show them: ‘Look, we’re up it!’ and that we’re flexible, we’ll attract that investment.”

Harris agreed, and added: “The pandemic has focused our minds and emphasised the importance of place and what differentiates us from the UK and the rest of the world. In the past we didn’t make as much of the fact we’re slap, bang in the middle of the UK. We have a fantastic place proposition, a fantastic brand and an economy that is significant – the same size as Denmark. We have to play on these strengths and take them forward as a proposition.”

Bhalla said that investors need to think about placemaking. She added: “I’m passionate about culture – and while our bars, restaurants and pubs were closed people felt it. Now they’re opened up people realise the importance of the ‘softer businesses’. We need to be passing people around the region and show our region off.”

Harris said that the historic dogfight between Derby, Leicester and Nottingham in the East Midlands for inward investment is now over. He added: “Things are much more collaborative now. There’s an acceptance now that, for example, Nottingham might be the best place for a certain business to go to; Leicester should be supporting that. That’s been evident with the Commonwealth Games – everyone’s got behind it – everyone will benefit from that, both East and West Midlands. Our strengths are in size and scale of the Midlands; it’s a very attractive proposition.”