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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
Aiming for the 'Premier League'

By Brady Haran
BBC News Online

Martin Briggs
Martin Briggs has a lot on his mind
Martin Briggs would be right at home with the likes of Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger.

He talks just like a football manager, emphasising the importance of hard work, psychology and striving for success.

And, in a funny kind of way, Mr Briggs also dreams of being part of a premier league.

However his league does not involve England's top 20 football clubs - it is Europe's top 20 regions.

As chief executive of the East Midlands Development Agency, Mr Briggs is heading a programme called Destination 2010.

Its goal is to lead the East Midlands - encompassing Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland - on to a prestigious list.

He hopes the East Midlands will be ranked in Europe's top 20 regions by the year 2010, as defined by various criteria including income, employment, equality and environment.

BEST OF THE BEST
Recognise this city?

The region currently sits at about number 35, well behind the leaders in the Netherlands, Finland and Italy.

The UK's top region, the South East, is ranked at number 14, with the East of England (17th) and London (19th) also making the top 20.

Mr Briggs spoke with BBC News Online about why he thinks the East Midlands can earn "promotion" to the top flight, and how it will be done.


Why are you aiming to be in Europe's top 20?

Martin Briggs: "Setting the target has allowed us to focus debate and identify the issues the region needs to face. It starts discussion about strengths and weaknesses.

FLYING HIGH
Plane and moon
Six industries have been targeted as priorities in the East Midlands:
  • Engineering (including aerospace and motorsport)
  • Clothing and textiles
  • Food and drink
  • Health
  • Creative industries
  • Environmental technology

  • "We chose Europe not because it is the only important place, but frankly because it can become quite difficult once you get outside Europe to get the necessary information and data to make direct and useful comparisons."

    Is it realistic to think the East Midlands can make the top 20?

    "We wouldn't have chosen it if we didn't think it was possible, but equally we didn't want to choose something that was evidently achievable.

    "My own view is that it's going to be tough to get to that level. If you look at the last three or four years we have seen the region move up by about five places in that league table... so in another seven years it could be done, but it's going to be tough."

    So would you consider the programme to have failed if you finished at position number 21?

    "You wouldn't consider that to be a failure because, unlike the Premier League and First Division in football, you are not decisively out and decisively in."

    Why pick a goal that is so far in the future? Why not choose a goal that can be assessed earlier?

    "There is a long-term strategy because you've got to think big - some of the biggest changes in terms of economies and societies of people don't happen in 12 or 18 months or two years, they are longer term changes.

    "But you've obviously got to monitor year by year what is happening, so we have a whole set of specific targets we expect to achieve year by year."

    Why is the East Midlands not in the top 20 already? What are its weaknesses?

    "I would say one is public investment in infrastructure, transport links... they are a very important part of what makes an economy work well.

    PRETTY AS A PICTURE
    Lincoln Cathedral

    "Secondly, levels of enterprise in the East Midlands. We see about 30,000 new businesses created per annum in this region. Our estimate is that we need about 34,000 a year.

    "Thirdly, we need to raise the level of skills and so-called knowledge industries. This region has very high levels of employment, but that is combined with comparatively low levels of skill and qualifications, partly because of the industrial structure the region has had.

    "Without those skills you don't attract industries and businesses that are at the cutting edge."

    On the other hand, what has the region got in its favour?

    "This is very much a small business region with a diverse industrial base. It is not dominated by large businesses.

    "Secondly, we are not a region with huge urban problems. We don't have a huge conurbation or anywhere with millions of people in it and all the urban problems that come with that.

    The real difference is going to come if we embed in people's minds that they have got to do things differently and get their kids to aim higher
    Martin Briggs

    "All our cities are about a quarter million in size - Nottingham, Leicester, Derby - and don't have huge concentrations of deprivation.

    "Something like 40% of the population of the East Midlands live in rural areas which is double the national average, and those are the areas that have been growing over the last 20 years in economic terms.

    "The third thing is that we have a very strong education base. We have eight universities, including several genuinely world-class universities.

    "A lot of people come to this region to study... the challenge for us is to hold on to them when they finish because they don't necessarily see opportunities to pursue their career here."

    What is the key to succeeding in this programme?

    "Some of it is just boring stuff, like doing things better and having systems in place.

    "But quite a lot of it is about stimulating wider ambition because, in the end, that is how you will make an impact.

    "The real difference is going to come if we embed in people's minds that they have got to do things differently and get their kids to aim higher."

    East Midlands map
    EMDA has been in the East Midlands since 1999

    Would injecting large amounts of money in the area make a difference?

    "In terms of many of the issues, money is not necessarily the problem.

    "The solution is not to double the amount of money coming into the region to do these things. In fact, there are quite strong arguments if you look at the most deprived areas across Europe that the more money you throw at a problem, the bigger the problem becomes.

    "That's paradoxical, but it happens because people get into dependency mode. It can get to a stage that no business will invest without demanding a subsidy."


    SEE ALSO:
    Planes, grains and automobiles
    22 May 03  |  England
    The best in Europe
    22 May 03  |  England
    In Pictures: Business in the East Midlands
    22 May 03  |  Photo Gallery


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