Devolution debate should have business growth at its heart

Published 2nd October 2014 at 2:16pm

Guest blog from Julie Kenny CBE who is Chairman and Chief Executive of Pyronix and a Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Board Member

Julie Kenny

Julie Kenny

You can’t turn on the television or radio at the moment without hearing a politician or journalist talking about devolution. As different ideas about how to implement more devolution get debated, I hope that the need for business growth to be at the heart of all this will not be forgotten.

Whilst I believe that giving local leaders the freedom and flexibility to make economic decisions without interference from Government could achieve the vision of a ‘northern powerhouse’, it is the difference it could make to growing businesses and the lives of their employees and families that I’m more interested in.

What devolution must do is give local leaders the powers needed to support local business growth. I believe that for local spending to work really effectively the private sector need to be involved because local business people better understand what they need to do to grow. Businesses who are engaged with, and who believe that they have the backing of their local leaders, have more confidence to take risks. They are also better able to give their staff the skills they need to help them to grow.

I have been involved in local regeneration for nearly twenty years and I have heard many popular arguments about decentralisation, devolution and localism before. These arguments have rarely gained so much ground as quickly as in recent weeks, spurred on by the Scottish referendum.

I run a business called Pyronix which manufactures electronic security equipment. It is my own business and I have built it up from scratch. We manufacture a wide range of electronic security equipment and have a turnover of over £18 million. About half of our annual turnover comes from exports to over seventy countries from around the world.

I could never have imagined I would start a business which would one day be among the top companies in its sector in the country. The growth of my business, and ability of my excellent staff, has enabled me to play a bigger part in my local community. It has meant that I have been able to volunteer my time and expertise to assist with wider regeneration in the City Region.

Last year I joined the Sheffield City Region LEP board. The LEP is a true partnership between the private and public sector – over half of our board is made up of members from the private sector. As a business owner, I offer business experience and knowledge. Like other private sector LEP board members, I understand the risks that businesses take to succeed and the kind of support which encourages businesses to grow. I started my business by using equity from the sale of my home. As a newly married woman about to start a family, I was aware of the risks I was taking, and it wasn’t easy, but I believed that hard work would result in success.

I believe that involving the private sector in the decisions which affect business growth is incredibly important. This is because business people recognise the daily challenges of surviving and succeeding in business. The daily challenges we face are shared by 45,000 businesses across the Sheffield City Region. Our board has senior people from really big businesses and owners of smaller businesses people from across a wide range of sectors including voluntary, manufacturing and technology.

I want people in the Sheffield City Region to believe that if they give 100 per cent effort to whatever they do, they will be rewarded. I worked hard to get a grant from my local authority to be able to finish my education, and I was rewarded as I given the opportunity to qualify as a lawyer. Now, as a business owner with 165 people working for me I believe passionately about developing my own staff and I work hard to ensure they have as much opportunity to develop as possible.

Private-sector involvement has enabled the LEP to design a skills programme which can better meet the needs of local employers and employees. Our skills programme enables businesses like mine to ensure that training providers in the area offer the right courses – so that local people can undertake useful and rewarding training and get to where they want to be in life. The skills programme is just one example of where private sector involvement is ensuring that funds are spent in a way which is better for businesses and for their staff. In the coming months, as discussions on devolution become more intense and complicated, I hope that growing businesses and improving opportunities to staff are central to the debate.

This article was originally written for the Yorkshire Post and appeared in print in the Business section on Tuesday 30 September 2014.

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