Representatives from small businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire had the chance to voice their views to government this week at a round table with Small Business Minister Margot James MP.
Ms James was invited to meet local small and medium enterprises by the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership. The meeting was hosted by the Emma Bridgewater Pottery, at the firm’s Stoke-on-Trent headquarters and factory.
Ms James said she was keen to visit Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire as one of her first engagements as Small Business Minister – and her very first visit to the city itself.
“It is a welcome opportunity to engage with the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP, which comes highly recommended as a really go-ahead LEP that has achieved for the area,” she told the meeting with the heads of local firms and business members of the LEP board.
The Minister, whose responsibilities include being the government’s growth champion for the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area, said she was delighted take on the role.
“I am excited to be here because Stoke-on-Trent has such a proud history of ceramics and it continues to be such a living, growing industry,” Ms James said.
“I very much want to hear the views of local businesses about the issues they face. And I will do all I can to make sure I help you to succeed.”
The Minister paid tribute to small businesses, who are responsible for 60% of private sector employment and contribute £1.3 trillion in turnover to the economy nationally. Her portfolio covers areas that impact on small businesses, such as better regulation, access to finance, prompt payment and labour markets.
LEP chairman David Frost CBE, who chaired the round table, said he was delighted to welcome the Minister to the area.
“This is a great opportunity for local businesses to put their views to a government minister face to face and discuss the issues that matter most to them and the opportunities and challenges ahead for them,” he said. “The meeting has come at a crucial time as the government is preparing its Industrial Strategy, giving local businesses the chance to make a meaningful input into the new strategy.
“We are very pleased to have a ministerial champion who is taking such a keen interest in our area and who is so eager to listen to small businesses and help them succeed.
“As a LEP, we are proud of our a strong track record of success in creating more and better jobs in our region and we look forward to working closely with Margot James in future to continue to build on this success and create thriving communities and a flourishing economy.”
Councillor Abi Brown, deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “We’re very happy to be welcoming another Government minister to our city so they can see first-hand what is on offer here in Stoke-on-Trent. This is further proof that Stoke-on-Trent is on the up and how our profile is growing for all the right reasons at the highest level.
“It’s great that the minister is visiting Emma Bridgewater which announced plans this week to expand its operations in the city and create 70 new jobs. The Make it Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire team was directly involved in helping them find the home for their new distribution and customer service centre which will open in Fenton.
“We are already one of the country’s fastest growing economies and our Enterprise Zone designation for Ceramic Valley, one of only 44 in the country, is clear recognition from Government that they have confidence in our achievements and the direction we are moving forward in.”
The businesses meeting the Minister included Valentine Clays, Dermal Technology Laboratories, Woolcool, Emma Bridgewater Pottery, Allied Insulators and Lister Trade Frames. The meeting was also attended by two LEP board members with their own small businesses, Kevin Oakes and Jonathan Dale. The business sectors represented included ceramics, medical technology, power engineering, construction, and pharmaceutical and food packaging. Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth was also at the meeting at the invitation of the Minister.
Following the round table Ms James also toured the Emma Bridgewater factory with operations director Graham Bolton, and congratulated the firm on its major expansion plans announced this week.