Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

Ipswich hears from former M&S boss but will Labour be listening


Successful: Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose

Today the second Beacon Town Conference is taking place in Ipswich at the Corn Exchange. The conference is organised by the Morning Ipswich Star and brings together local business leaders and politicians to discuss how to improve the economy of Suffolk’s county town. 

This time round Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has managed to persuade the former boss of Marks & Spencers, Sir Stuart Rose, to attend the conference as a keynote speaker to offer his thoughts on how Ipswich can improve its retail offering. The conference delegates will also discuss how to get their hands on £24 Million of the government’s Future Cities fund.

Earlier in the week during the Star’s promotion of the conference, I noted how Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere tried to hold on to Mr Gummer’s coattails when he was quoted in the local paper saying it was a “real coup for the town” getting Sir Stuart to attend the event.

Socialist: Cllr David Ellesmere pursues Michael Foot policies

The fact of the matter is that without an MP like Ben Gummer who has connections far and wide through the family business of politics, Cllr Ellesmere would never be able to attract the likes of Sir Stuart Rose to come and speak at a provincial town business conference. 

But the Council can’t rely on the MP to develop Ipswich’s economy. That is not the MP’s job. Ben Gummer is tasked with representing Ipswich in Westminster and bending the ear of ministers and mandarins in Whitehall to get the best deal for Ipswich people. 

However, the political local leadership must come from the local authorities who are at the coal-face in the town day-in, day-out. Council leaders must be the primary drivers of change and development. This is where we are distinctly lacking in Ipswich. We don’t have such a leader. Borough chief executive James Hehir, before his untimely death, came close but he was a civil servant and should never have had to step into the shoes of a political leader. But he had to because no political council leader was a-coming. 

Ipswich has many things going for it, including a shopping centre which is actually quite good with a wide variety of retailers, the largest UK base for Willis insurance brokers outside of London and Europe’s largest research and development centre on its doorstep: BT Adastral Park in Martlesham. And even with dreadful rail infrastructure and chronic overcrowding, Central London is one hour, fifteen minutes away. But more must be done to develop Ipswich fit for the twenty first century: there are very few big private employers with public sector employment heavily relied upon which in the present “cuts” environment is not good for the local economy’s medium to long term health. And the transport links are more akin to the Victorian age rather the Digital age.

Things can be better but it requires local political leadership from Ipswich Borough Council. At the moment we have a Labour council leader and a Labour Administration who yearn for the 1970s, who are rabidly anti-enterprise and anti-aspiration. Cllr Ellesmere fits the bill of a old-style Labour leader – he has everything other than the donkey jacket. Is central government really going to part with £24 Million with this man?

For Ipswich to move forward to the next level, we need a dynamic leader who gets economics, aspiration and growth. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many high profile retailers, entrepreneurs and other successful leaders appear at provincial town business conferences if, when the keynote speakers go home back to the home counties, there is no one left back in Ipswich who can absorb the ideas and then lead a team to implement them. 

Representative: Ipswich MP Ben Gummer 

Don’t look at Ben Gummer to do the Council leader’s role. The MP is doing his bit: ministers and Whitehall mandarins know for the first time in twenty years where Ipswich actually is on a map. Our health services at Ipswich Hospital and our schools have directly benefited as a result of Mr Gummer’s work representing the town in Westminster. But that isn’t enough if we are to attract investment to Ipswich. Without a go-getting council leader, Ipswich will only ride the economic wave rather than chart a successful course. 

We are certainly not seeing any spark or vision from the current Labour administration and leader. Even before they got their hands back on the levers of power in 2011 they colluded to turn their backs on 900 jobs and £70 Million of investment when they voted against Tesco’s proposed development of the old B&Q site on Grafton Way. Then once they were in power they continued their anti-enterprise agenda by voting against the conversion of a closed Green King pub site on Woodbridge Road into a new retail unit with new jobs. Labour’s campaign slogan should be: “Against jobs and investment”.  

It is not as if Labour can’t deliver growth and prosperity to a town: look at Reading in Berkshire, a town not so dissimilar to our own. The electorate consistently vote a Labour administration into their council but here the Labour councillors actually showed some leadership back in the 1990s and attracted millions of pounds of investment to turn what was a run-down dump of a town centre into one of the best retail environments in the country with The Oracle Centre. Their can-do attitude and strong leadership undoubtedly also attracted some of the biggest IT firms in the world – Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco etc. – to setup shop on the town’s periphery. Ipswich PLP take note!

Back in Ipswich, the Borough Labour leader might not have a donkey jacket but the similarities with Michael Foot are there for all to see. The sad thing for Ipswich is I think Cllr Ellesmere might quite enjoy the comparison.

Author: gavinmaclure

IT professional; political blogger, former Conservative councillor

2 thoughts on “Ipswich hears from former M&S boss but will Labour be listening

  1. GavinFact- Both your wife and Mr Gummer were against the Golden Key development and both wrote to the council on behalf of residents. Fact- The Golden Key was not a closed pub and is still serving today- Greene King have shut a pub a further 100 Metres away but forgot to mention that in their application.The Grafton way/Tesco development has been held up a legal case and now we hear that Tesco are downsizing their original plans.

  2. GavinThis is the article I would have written had I not been at the conference. I can report, with surprise, that David Ellesmere was on the button, taking up an offer to redesign the town centre, taking on board the suggestions of Sir Stuart. This was not the "Ipswich Commissar" saying no. The phrase caused a ripple of laughter through the hall that appeared to bemuse Sir Stuart, who clearly didn't realise Ipswich HAD a Commissar and he was sitting in the front row.The first half of the Beacon Ipswich conference was very encouraging. Not least because many of the transport issues Sir Stuart raised will be dealt with by plans already in existence. I did chuckle quietly when he praised the new signboards that were put up by Tanya, but noted that he still said there were nowhere near enough signs telling people who aren't from Ipswich where the retail centre is.The second half left me a little confused to be honest. I also think it is doubtful that the Government will award Ipswich the Future Cities fund of £24million, not least because some of the other 30 cities are actually cities, have more dynamic leadership and don't face the same adversity we do in Ipswich.However, the concept of "Future City" is that it should be a test bed for technology making our lives more connected and simpler. If that is the basis upon which the bids are decided, Ipswich may well have many of the attributes BIS should be looking for. Our drawbacks could work as our strengths. The fact that there are 5 local authorities for Greater Ipswich, the uncertain leadership caused by that. The lower than average educational attainment. The Victorian street plan. The sacred cows that nobody will allow the council to touch (note Kevin and Sally on Ipswich Spy last night both reacting in shock to the idea that the market might have to move to Lloyds Avenue, or to Princes Street, the Buttermarket or Queens Street, or anywhere in the town centre that isn't directly in front of the Corn Exchange). All these things, if presented in the right way, would allow the councils to show that the Future City bid represents a perfect test bed for new technology.I still think Cambridge will win the Future Cities bid though. Of course that's nothing to do with the political colours of Vince's department matching those of the MP in Cambridge…

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