Gloucestershire Chamber hosts Listening to Business event

Huw James
Policy Manager
27th November 2023

On Thursday 23rd November, Business and Civic Leaders in Gloucestershire met at The Speech House in Coleford to attend a “Listening to Business” event, run by Gloucestershire Chamber of Commerce and supported by Forest of Dean District Council.

The event, hosted by Director of Gloucestershire Chamber Ian Mean MBE, included talks and round table discussions, giving businesses an intimate opportunity to hear from and ask questions to each of the guest business leaders and experts in a relaxed setting.  

Our first guest of the evening was Councillor Johnathan Lane, who is the Cabinet Member for Economic Growth in the Forest of Dean and the Vice Chair of the Forest Economic Partnership. He also represents Tidenham as a District Councillor for the Green Party. 

He spoke about the need for sustainable economic growth in the region, where no one is left behind, the Forest’s focus on developing their strong reputation for productivity, and the role planning plays in supporting economic growth and housing: 

“I want the Forest to be a place where people and businesses prosper, and where people aren't left behind so that places and people benefit from this prosperity and from inclusion in the Forest’s Labour Market.” 

“The Forest of Dean is a real success story in terms of productivity and this was a huge source of pride for the Forest community. Within the UK productivity has fallen, whereas businesses in the forest have gone and invested in skills, and technologies, which is where a lot of the future productivity gains will come from.” 

We were also joined by Luke Freeman, who is the Joint Chief Executive of MF Freeman Group, founding Freeman Homes and later Freeman Retirement Living.  

MF Freeman Group are a Medium-Sized Developer with the mission of ‘Building for a Better Future.’ Mr Freeman, who was recently awarded an MBA in Leading Business, with a focus on ESG governance, highlighted MF Freeman's participation in the Good Growth Partnership for sustainable housing projects,  

MF Freeman Group is committed to helping achieve the UN’s SDGs by using them to review business activities, aiming to contribute to the goals through our sustainability framework. He highlighted some of the challenges in creating affordable housing, and their focus on putting forward good quality with EPC A and B rating within the housing market, with an additional focus on bringing in EV Charging facilities and Solar at the point of construction for new homes in the Forest and surrounding areas.  

Despite some changes to the planning sector released in the autumn statement, he raised concern about the knock-on impact that funding shortfalls in the planning sector will have on the current housing crisis. 

Finally, Luke spoke on the topic on skills gaps, and how important it is to develop the next generation to meet increasing housebuilding projects. The average age of workers within the construction agency is rising from a base of 49 years old in 2017, with one in every five UK-born construction workers was aged over 55.  

Our final guest of the event was Warren Thomas, who is the CEO of Gloucestershire Engineering Training. 

Mr Thomas highlighted how within Gloucestershire there are 120,000 people working in the Advanced Engineering Supply Chain and yet also a 60,000 person skills shortage.  

Gloucestershire Engineering Training currently only has one placement for every three applications they receive, having to turn down potential new entrants to the local engineering labour market due to the lack of the quality educational environments where Gloucestershire Engineering Training can train their students.  

Despite this, Gloucestershire Engineering Training were able to invest in opening a new training facility in Cinderford, to support and develop young people into future engineers locally. GET Cinderford supports skills and commercial training for local employers and staff.  

"The Forest of Dean has had nowhere to provide engineering training support for decades, so we [Gloucestershire Engineering Training] wanted to fix this."  

Warren spoke about Gloucestershire Engineering Training’s efforts to attract more students, especially women interested in STEM for their engineering courses.  

To close the event, Emma Carter, Membership Director at Business West, thanked the speakers who summated the evening’s discussions on the need for sustainable growth and the importance of skills and education. Emma highlighted ongoing efforts to improve these areas but also recognised the need for further action and collaboration through engagement in initiatives such as the Gloucestershire Local Skills Improvement Plan.  

LSIP is a Business West initiative funded by the Department for Education to bring together employers, education, and training providers and other local stakeholders to set out the key priorities and changes needed in the area to ensure post-16 technical education and training prepares employees better for work. Find out more about our LSIP projects through our website. 

Thank you to everyone who attended the event and sharing your business concerns and questions, we hope you found it worthwhile and went away with new insights and ideas!   

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