James Muir took over as LEP board Chair in January after Sir Nigel Knowles’ term of office ended in December 2018. unLTD’s Jill Theobald caught up with him to find out more about his first 100 days in the role and plans for the future
“We’re growing jobs in the region.
“We’ve got some very committed public leadership.
“We’ve got an excellent Sheffield City Region team.
“We’re got a dynamic Mayor.
“And in comparison with other places, we’ve got one of the best performing LEPs in the country.”
That’s quite the comprehensive list of strengths and the positives I receive when I ask James Muir about his first impressions of the Sheffield City Region in the run-up to his first 100 days in the role of LEP board Chair.
“There are still things we need to fix, but there’s some real momentum in the region.”
The appointment of the former Head of Group National Sales at Volkswagen, and Astrea Academy Trust Chair of Trustees, was welcomed in January by SCR Mayor Dan Jarvis who described him as an “outstanding candidate for the job”, adding:
“With James’s business expertise, passion for our region and his dedication to social mobility, I’m confident he will provide strong leadership to the LEP, be the voice of our businesses and represent the Sheffield City Region on a Northern, national and international level.”
It’s certainly been a strong start, with that passion and dedication reflected in his plan from the get-go.
“I’ve decided to develop a plan where it’s not just the five or six days I’m engaged for a month, I’m putting in a lot more time than that.
“I’ve spent time learning how things operate, what works, what doesn’t, information gathering – it’s all part of building a picture up.”
And building that picture has involved a very busy schedule.
“That requires a lot of contact with the Sheffield City Region Executive Team,” says James. “The rest of my time is reaching out with the SCR Mayor and the LEP stakeholders throughout the region.
“Then there’s meeting public sector leaders and CEOs, private sector board members of the LEP, and different representative bodies such as Chambers of Commerce and the Cutlers Company.
“Then there’s the CBI, Sheffield City Partnership which is chaired by Lord Blunkett, and I am meeting as many local MPs as possible, as well as a number of other forums out there.
“I have begun meeting people like Prof Keith Ridgway founder and Executive Chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and others involved in SCR Global Innovation Corridor innovation corridor but by end of May/June I hope I will have engaged with, either formally or informally, all of the different stakeholders.
“All of these elements are going to feed into the bigger picture.
“People are very keen to understand what the LEP can do, what role it can perform, it may not particularly clear to everybody what the LEP can do and how it works with the Mayor to give him the best commercial input and advice to improve the economy.
“The remit of the Mayor is much wider so the LEP is the ‘business arm’, the private sector voice.
“I want to be out there locally and want to be able to get to everybody. My engagement is far from complete but it’s a matter of time. I’m making contact with lots of businesses who want to meet me as soon as possible, ranging from smaller firms to the high-profile larger ones, and understanding their challenges.”
One of those challenges is clear:
“There’s a need for more engagement from the private sector – that’s the point I’ve been given from businesses, and that’s what I’m aiming to address, although the other stakeholders are, of course, critical.
“Working with ALL of the LEP stakeholders is crucial – it’s important that we are communicative and collaborative.”
And James is also keen to ensure he engages with all the Sheffield City Region’s sectors, both emerging and well-established.
“Our obvious strengths are engineering, manufacturing, and new technologies, but that’s by no means an exclusive focus.
“I am looking at growth sectors for the future, but a lot of those more traditional sectors are a part of that. It’s all about identifying what sorts of products, what sorts of goods, what sorts of skills are going to be needed.
“The growth sectors that offer the region potential are sectors that require a higher skill set to tackle things like poor productivity, not that we need to import these skills. It’s learning how we deliver the best jobs for our existing workforce – better paid, higher quality, better skilled jobs to meet that challenge.
“We all recognise that we as a region don’t always punch according to our weight and need to have much more of an impact, that’s pretty well known.
“The value that’s being generated is not in line with the potential. There’s bags more room to grow.
“Productivity is below the national average, but that’s not because of negligence and we need to turn that around and fix that.
“That means me working with the SCR Mayor on the Strategic Economic Plan, and on Government funding from the Shared Prosperity Fund so we secure the best resources to move the region forward.
“That’s what an ambitious transformational industrial strategy needs to deliver on.”