Greg Clark is Minister for Cities and MP for Tunbridge Wells.
Nicky Morgan, elected in 2010, is already one of the government’s rising stars, attracting approving notices for her dispatch box performance as Economic Secretary to the Treasury. And, as with many of our best performers in government, her increasing command at the national level draws heavily on her experience of working to drive forward the economy at local level, in her case in a mixed urban and rural area, in which we have not held the parliamentary seat since 1997.
Loughborough is just the sort of seat which Conservatives need to make our natural territory. Like many towns and cities in the East Midlands, it has a broadly-based economy that has insulated it from the more extreme economic swings that other places have had to cope with over recent decades. But this very resilience has often made it modest about its strengths. I have always thought that the East Midlands has not consistently promoted itself with either the self-confidence or the assertiveness of other parts of the country.
But that is changing. And it is people like Nicky who are steadily raising the profile and the pulse rate of towns like Loughborough.
When the AstraZeneca site closed abruptly in 2010 with a potential loss of two thousand professional jobs, it could have been a body blow to the town. But local leadership made the difference. As Nicky says “What I love about the East Midlands is we don’t just sit there and moan. We just get on with it”. In work that she believes is ”a metaphor for this government since 2010”, Nicky and the Loughborough civic and business leaders joined forces to give the site a future. Success came when Jayplas made the decision to invest in the site in 2012, forming the Charnwood Biomedical Campus, a 70 acre park offering high quality office and laboratory space attracting global businesses.
Loughborough University has emerged as a serious magnet for international investment, and Nicky was instrumental in securing the Leicester and Leicestershire City Deal, a major part of which allows the £97.5m expansion of Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park, bringing over 750 new jobs to the town. A key to the success of the Deal has been the close relationship between the Charnwood District Council led by Cllr David Slater, Leicestershire County Council, led by Nick Rushton and the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby.
Bob Allison, the Vice Chancellor of the University, has been more than instrumental and there has been powerful support from business leaders, like Andrew Bacon, the chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership and those of the other district councils. At the signing ceremony of the City Deal at Loughborough University it was evident that the relationships were among the strongest I have seen in any of the towns and cities I negotiate with, and Nicky was a key figure in bringing them together.
That reflects years of immersing herself in working in the local economy. Nicky fought the seat in 2005 before winning in 2010, by which time she was identified as a practical and effective fixer for the town she represents. It was no surprise that last week in Manchester, when I convened a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chairs of the Local Enterprise Partnership from across the country, Nicky was invited to attend and was much at home with people who were doing for their own areas what she has been doing for Loughborough.
Local candidates – and even MPs – don’t have much formal power, even in their own communities. But what local Conservatives such as Nicky Morgan show is that needn’t stand in the way of them playing a big role as economic leaders in their own right, by bringing people together across party lines to join forces in the interest of job creation and business growth.