Western Gateway chief addresses cross-border partnership's role post-COVID

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
29th May 2020

Over 150 business leaders heard the head of the region’s new Western Gateway project appeal for business ambassadors to work alongside her and shape the new cross border partnership.

Katherine Bennett CBE, senior vice president of Airbus UK, is the chair of Western Gateway and was one of a group of high-profile speakers at a special online business meeting held by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce & West of England Initiative which sits at the heart of Business West.

She said that the Western Gateway was “a powerhouse waiting to happen”.

And she told the meeting: “We do believe we have a lot of great things going for us. As a business leader, I have a passionate belief that business often follows business and I am so keen to get a load of business ambassadors working alongside me.

“This is not going to be an easy task and it’s not going to happen overnight. The only way we can do that I feel is by us having a leadership group and with business alongside us and endeavour to show how this western part of the UK, that we're all so happy and proud to both live and work in, can contribute to the nation’s wealth.

“And if you don’t mind me using the term levelling-up; absolutely key messages I have had from government ministers recently is the importance they place in these sub-national partnerships”. 

James Durie, Chief Executive of the Chambers of Commerce and West of England Initiative at Business West, said:

“We have a region that has a highly energised business community engaged and focused on the strategic challenges we face post COVID-19.

“Katherine talked about the need to support our aerospace industry which is one of the flagships for our region’s economy, but also the opportunity to work with her and get fully behind a powerful sub national approach. We know business wants to do this and is so ambitious for this region. They know we need this part of the country heard in Whitehall and its role properly recognised and understood as part of the national conversation and we look forward to working with Katherine and the partnership to enable our businesses to make this happen.”

Talking after he had spoken during the meeting, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce of which Business West Chambers of Commerce is a member, said:

“To see so many different voices from business and the world of politics, trade unions and civic society - I thought it was fantastic. I think the key challenge for the Western Gateway is defining a very small number of major priorities and then speaking with one voice as a business community to try to get them addressed.

“Business West Chambers of Commerce have played a critical role in convening people across the South West to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and that convening role clearly stretches across from Bristol and the West of England to right across the SW region. I know how much this is seen, felt and appreciated. Business West Chambers of Commerce have also played an important role as part of the national Chamber of Commerce network helping to bring business issues to the fore and showing that we get solutions.

“One great example of that is the work led by Business West’s Policy Director, Matt Griffith, who together with the British Chambers of Commerce team have ensured decisions have been taken such that business people who are self-employed have been able to get access to some of the grant schemes that previously they were unable to get into. And the same holds true for helping to push local authorities to get more of that grant money out to businesses who were facing cash pressures.”

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, the new President of the British Chambers of Commerce, was another speaker at the event.

She said: “The Chamber network is a really unique network when I take a look across the country.

“It’s fantastic that government can get our feedback, particularly what is happening with COVID-19.”

As BCC President she wrote to the Prime Minister at the beginning of May asking what comes next in the battle against coronavirus as it had caused such a shock to the economy.

She talked about the journey to recovery having three phases: the restart phase, the rebuild phase and the renew phase.

“Clearly we are still on restart - I am one of the big eternal optimists of business-we will recover”, she commented.

“Not every business but we will come out of this stronger eventually

“I took that view after the financial crisis which I fully appreciate was a bit of a warm-up act to what we are seeing today.

“How do we build in resilience? I have been pleased by the innovation of the government schemes but as we start to come out of those what are we going to do?”

She urged the business leaders to now think for just a few minutes every day about growth opportunities in their business.

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