Doncaster business leaders and students attending the Doncaster Business Conference heard how the borough is on the cusp of great things but there are still challenges needing to be addressed to create happier communities, higher skills, better jobs and more productive businesses.

The annual conference, run by Doncaster Chamber, addressed two key themes – creating, retaining and attracting talent in the town, and, making Doncaster a vibrant cultural place – both of which are fundamental to leveraging economic growth opportunities.

In his opening speech to 250 delegates, Dan Fell, ceo of Doncaster Chamber, underpinned the resounding sentiment throughout the whole conference that meaningful partnerships and collaborations between government, business and education are crucial for addressing challenges, acting on opportunities and getting the job done.

Keynote speaker Robert Hough CBE, chair of Peel Airports Group, echoed this in saying skills, jobs and partnerships are vital for the development of Doncaster. He said:  “Airports do much more than transport passengers; they are 21st century business drivers for economic growth.” Doncaster Sheffield Airport will play its part by delivering its 20-year Masterplan; providing up to 13,000 jobs and working with the public and private sector to offer training and education opportunities.

A debate followed with influential leaders including Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster Council, Anne Tyrrell, chief executive of Doncaster College Group, and Karen Finlayson, partner for PwC) on growing and harnessing Doncaster’s talent. There was full consensus that skills and learning in Doncaster can be improved through business and education working more closely together to raise students’ awareness of the careers available locally, to help them develop their core competencies and to fulfil businesses needs for a skilled workforce.  During the past four years, the Doncaster Skills Academy has connected 20,000 young people with businesses and education providers to show them different career options that they may not have thought possible.

The event, chaired by Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor, also included a conversation with Doncaster’s three local MPs with questions taken from the floor on skills, employment, infrastructure, culture, and place. Rt Hon Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, discussed the challenge of changing perceptions of Doncaster from within. Rt Hon Dame Rosie Winterton DBE, MP for Doncaster Central, spoke about the inherent challenge of needing a strategic approach to education for schools to promote technical skills and open pupils’ minds to opportunities other than the university agenda. Rt Hon Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley, spoke positively about the fight on local school funding cuts.

The Doncaster Business Conference, held at the Legacy Centre, also featured a panel discussion which analysed Doncaster as a vibrant cultural centre and recognised the importance of the creative industries to the local economy. The panellists, including Alistair Maclean-Clark, the film producer behind the plans for the High Melton Studios,  agreed Doncaster needs to unite as one to work together and shout louder about its assets; including those it already has such as Cast and Doncopolitan and those in the pipeline including the PGA golf course.

Tim Banfield, executive director, Doncaster Racecourse, said Doncaster’s  2020 ‘Year of Culture’ concept must have a legacy with new infrastructure, opportunities and platforms for creative firms on the back of it. Leah McMullen, design manager at Queens Road Design Centre, agreed more creative businesses are needed in the town centre. Students in the audience also made the case that harm has already been done by butchering creativity from the curriculum which hurts not just the creative sectors but all employers.

Towards the close of the conference, keynote speaker, Rosie Millard, the former chair of the Hull UK City of Culture 2017, shared how Hull’s City of Culture status inspired local people to take pride in their city. Her inspiring speech was motivating for Doncaster communities to believe, take ownership and achieve in becoming a City of Culture.

The conference elicited a feeling of civic pride and a “can do” attitude to crack on and make Doncaster known for its vibrant cultural offering, skills and training opportunities, partnerships, and positive environment for doing business.