Sunday, 27 March 2016

Norwich City Council Leader's Reception

When you think about networking and presentation venues in Norwich the castle doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but it should. Think about it. The castle has a prominent position within the city, offers fantastic views of the city, has plenty of open space inside for mingling and/or dinner tables and has, it turns out, a fantastic auditorium.  This was the setting for the Leader’s of Norwich City Council Business Reception.

As I walked across the bridge towards the keep, lamenting the old days when you could walk up the various steps which wind their way around the mound, I bumped into Huw Sayer who had just completed a circuit of the top of the mound. This is something I had never done, which is odd when you realise I was born and raised in Norwich and have visited the castle many, many times. Huw suggested we do the circuit together, so we did and took in the fantastic city of Norwich.

We were welcomed into the castle’s rotunda where drinks were available and we could mingle with the other guests. I took the opportunity to catch up with one of Naked Element’s competitors and we discussed our businesses and our involvement in the early days of SyncNorwich. At 6.30pm we were invited to the auditorium for the presentations.

Councillor Alan Waters, the leader of Norwich City Council, opened proceedings in his usual jovial, friendly and informative way. He reminded us that Norfolk has the happiest workforce and the happiest children in the country. Norwich City Council has been nominated for council of the year and is spending £80M on house building, is funding the Northern Distributor and constantly striving for equality in the region.

The most interesting and important things Alan had to say were around the devolution of the East of England, which includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. If it goes ahead this will mean more local control over areas such as health, skills and transport investment. The region will shortly be entering a period of extended consultation with a final decision being made in the summer.

Next up was Jason Wolfe of ServiceTick, a thriving local technology company, who told us about their growth. A group of ex-Norwich Union colleagues created a web agency called Internet Geeks. As with a lot of service based companies, it’s difficult to scale beyond a certain point. Internet Geeks took the decision to build a product and ServiceTick was born. ServiceTick helps companies take action from their customer feedback. ServiceTick spawned a second business and product called SessionCam, which records a user's journey through your website.

The third speaker tonight was Richard Peat, from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who told us about an initiative in Norfolk called the Enterprise Advisor Network, where the LEP encouraging business owners to form partnerships with schools to help them develop a plan for increased learning. Richard was followed by Philip Roffe, a local business owner, who is keen to help high school students in making the right career moves when leaving school.

The final speaker tonight was Louise Smith, Director of Public Health at Norfolk County Council who is interested in how everyone can be physically and mentally as healthy as possible. Louise has been looking at how work and health affect each other. There are an estimated 34 million days a year lost to sickness with a £12B cost to the economy. Symptoms include back pain, muscle pain, mental health issues and stress. Lifestyle has a huge impact and can cause obesity, heart disease and cancer. Lots of productivity is also lost due to alcohol.

Louise explained that employers should make health a priority as it will reduce sick leave and improve staff morale and retention. Employers must involve employees to get the best results. Learning how to talk to someone with mental health issues, reducing smoking breaks and helping people to give up and increasing staff physical activity will all help.

Following an interesting question and answers session with all the speakers, which included Jane Chittenden admirably reminding everyone of the Norwich Digital City project, we returned to the rotunda where we were seated for more drinks and canapes.

I was sat with nine others, including one representative from the council, for the traditional discussion of issues facing Norfolk businesses. This is an excellent opportunity for us to air our views and influence the council.

The majority of the conversation was around the aspirations of students in schools, especially outside of the city and in West Norfolk. The general opinion was that many parents don’t have aspirations themselves, due to a multitude of reasons, and therefore do not encourage and in a lot of cases actively discourage their children from aspiring to more than they have achieved themselves. We were each encouraged to contact the schools we had attended and offer to talk about our journey to help inspire students.

All in all this, my second Norwich Council Leader’s Reception, was interesting, informative and I was involved in some very useful discussions and inspired to try and make a difference. The receptions are quite infrequent, but I am looking forward to the next one, and hope to speak about Naked Element, Norfolk Developers and NorDevCon.

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