East Midlands mini-budget wish list for the Chancellor

Letter to George Osborne

The Chancellor may need not them but he is getting a growing wish list from the East Midlands for his pre-Christmas mini-budget.

Improved roads, quicker broadband connections and a pay packet boost for workers - just a handful of ideas from MPs.

Maybe that's the trouble with a Chancellor's delayed Autumn Statement that almost gatecrashes Christmas.

MPs mistake these two fixed events on the diary and wish for a pet project to be funded by the Chancellor.

'Positive atmosphere'

Labour's Jon Ashworth, the MP for Leicester South, said: "I think some measures to boost wages are needed and an expansion of apprenticeships.

"Also more investment in childcare, so that families can move into full-time work. At the moment, things aren't great and people are struggling."

Yet the East Midlands economy shows signs of a sustained revival and is outpacing other English regions.

Liz Fothergill, president of the region's Chamber of Commerce, said: "There's a really positive atmosphere in the East Midlands.

"We are very happy at the way things are going at the moment."

That upbeat mood was reflected by many business leaders at a conference on the outskirts of Nottingham.

One of the speakers was Mike Baxter, boss of BPI Recycled Plastics.

If you use a black refuse sack, the chances are it is made at his firm's production centre at Heanor in Derbyshire.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Unemployment is down in some areas but higher in urban areas including Nottingham and Leicester

"We're continuing to grow," he said.

"We've had a pretty good 2014, certainly better than 2013. And 2013 was better than 2012. But things are very competitive out there."

On the horizon, there are some wobbles too with plans for hundreds of redundancies at Rolls-Royce in Derby.

Then there's the decision of the Nottinghamshire car seat yarn maker- Autofil of Annesley - to transfer production to Bulgaria, with the loss of 160 jobs.

Conservative MPs like Andrew Bridgen believe the continuing good economic news outweighs any set-backs.

'Better communications'

"The fact is unemployment in my constituency is down to 1.7%," he said.

"We do have pockets of high unemployment in our urban centres, places like Leicester and Nottingham.

"What we need now are better communications, rail and road, so we can get those unemployed people out into the county areas where the jobs are."

And a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rushcliffe's Ken Clarke, gave me his reasons why the East Midlands appears to be on the crest of an economic wave.

"The East Midlands is well served by where it is," he said.

"It's got very good transport links, which are going to improve, and it's right in the middle of the country. It doesn't have the costs of the south east."

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Image caption Some MPs would like quicker broadband for constituents in their areas

His Tory successor though may have some concerns over the findings of a recent survey from polling organisation Populus.

Apparently, 86% of us have yet to feel the economic benefits of any upturn.

Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, said: "A lot of people can see the growth statistics and the reports.

"But when it comes to their own experiences and the wages they are taking home, many people are not feeling the recovery yet and that's the challenge."

Maybe that's also the political challenges for George Osborne in his Autumn Statement.

Whatever the economic statistics may say, the feel-good is always more difficult to quantify.

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