There is nothing quite like a visit from your local MP to sharpen your thoughts on what is needed in the constituency and the role of Government in so many aspects of our lives and success.
With his recent appointment as Minister of Employment, having previously been Minister of Homes & Communities and Reading West’s representative in the House of Commons, Alok has no doubt faced many challenges in getting to grips with a shifting brief. Being local man however, getting to know his constituency is less of a challenge perhaps.
In setting up this session, we looked to bring representatives from across Reading’s property and broader employer base together to understand how Reading 2050 influences each of them, but also what we all believe we need from our local MP. What are the challenges that Reading faces? How do we drive the clear ambitions in Reading 2050 to reality? And how do we tackle the issue of competing housing and employment land needs town wide?
Reading is the largest town in the UK with some of the world’s most recognised brands basing their headquarters here, but there are some that still believe it could punch higher. In some respects, sitting so close to London has aided that growth. At the same time though it has potentially hindered it. The need for Reading to shout louder and celebrate what it offers was mentioned frequently and is one of numerous reasons we began the Reading 2050 process in the first place. How do we show off Reading’s offering? How do we build on the town’s strong successes to generate more? And how do we do all of this and deliver something fit for all residents across the town?
The need for the town to capitalise upon the £1bn investment to deliver a new station and to build on the opportunities it represents was recognised, as was the ever-present town centre traffic challenge; lack of housing affordability; and training in practical, ‘work ready’ subjects. How do we ensure that new developments enhance Reading as a place to live, work and play, using our strengths as a rail hub, close to Heathrow and on the motorway network? How do we compete with the northern cities for profile and funding?
There were strong views around the table as to what the challenges are, but don’t get me wrong, there were also some inspiring positive stories. Mentoring programme successes; and locally founded companies flourishing to become internationally renowned. But what struck me was the belief in the town and the desire to invest and deliver change. Everyone around the table has interests within the town and is keen to grow them, so we must be able to come together to facilitate this ambition and encourage further investment from others.
In our one-hour session, we didn’t come up with all of the answers, but it was heartening to see that our local MP was open to listening and responding to concerns and ideas. An appetite for success stories and initiatives for change were voiced and there is a great opportunity for us, as a business community, to get on and seek to influence change for everyone.
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