Pictured: Louise Bennett addresses businesses from a studio at the Chamber’s Annual Economic Conference

Business leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire are calling for a fund to bridge the gap between Covid-19 crisis and a potential economic recovery at a major conference in the region.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce held its 20th Annual Economic Conference online due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis with more than 250 delegates attending via video link.

The event, sponsored by CityFibre, Prime Accountants Group, Kumari Hart and WCG, heard from a range of speakers from across business and politics at a local, regional and national level.

Chamber chief executive Louise Bennett said it was vital to look to the future and give businesses the tools to build an economic recovery.

She said: “We need great leadership in Government, leadership in our businesses, and leadership in our communities.

“We must all show strength as individuals and then, by working together and supporting the more vulnerable in our society, we in the private sector will re-boot this UK economy.
“The Chamber is calling for a fund that can ‘bridge the gap’ for viable businesses between now and their recharged future because it is critical that, as businesses, we look to the future while learning from the challenges we have faced.

“And to help us plan, we need thought leadership by our Government – indeed all political parties – around how we stimulate business confidence and consumer confidence to generate spend and investment in our economy.”

The Conference also heard from The Rt. Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); West Midlands Mayor Andy Street; and Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon.

Zahawi said: “We are not out of the woods yet. I have no doubt how hard the current situation is for businesses up and down the country and, of course, here in Coventry and Warwickshire.

“Many businesses were yet to see a meaningful recovery since the first round of restrictions were eased after the summer and I am sorry for the economic hardship this will cause. But the cost of inaction would be far higher.

“We must also look to the future at how we want to shape our recovery post this pandemic. There is broad acceptance that any resilient recovery must be led by businesses and, of course, the private sector. Any economy driven excessively by Government spending is simply not sustainable in the long term.

“We have to empower businesses to lead the recovery. While the Government will continue to provide support when we return to the tiered system, there are other avenues where businesses can access help.

“This is where organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce really come into their own – from being a first port of call for advice or as a vehicle to get the business message across to Government and regulators. We are blessed with a fantastic Chamber in Coventry and Warwickshire and I must pay tribute to Louise Bennett and the team for the work they do, not least during this exceptional period.

“My advice would be to make the most of the Chamber as we navigate through the difficult months ahead to more stable and normal times ahead.”

Street said: “Pre-Covid, the West Midlands was enjoying great success with our economy growing faster than any region outside of London, and Coventry and Warwickshire was a key part of this.

“Clearly the pandemic has had a major impact, and our region was predicted to suffer the worst economically. Thankfully, that has not yet come to pass however we are still facing incredibly challenging times.

“But we must not get knocked off course, and we must bounce back and get back to our pre-Covid levels of success.

“As well as supporting those who have fallen out of work through training and re-skilling programmes, part of our bounce back must be around industries of the future and Government investment to support our plans.

“Our £3.2 billion ask of central Government has already seen a return of nearly £630m in just five months, and we’ve also seen huge private sector investment in the region in recent months – including more than £200m from Bruntwood for a life sciences park. There are encouraging signs, and the lobbying continues ferociously over bringing a Gigafactory to the region, which we know is a key to the future of our local automotive industry.”

Hannah Essex, Co-executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, hosted an Economic Panel event with Angela Joyce, CEO of WCG; Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities; Steve Harcourt, of Prime Accountants Group; and Paula Deas, Deputy CEO of the CWLEP.

Louise Bennett hosted a panel on recovery and resilience with Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Coventry City of Culture Trust; Leigh Hunt, CityFibre’s City Manager Coventry; Martin Reeves, Chief Executive of Coventry City Council, and Monica Fogarty, Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Council.

The event was broadcast by Istead AV from its Spotlight Streaming Studio.